The UN 2005 Human Development Report presents us with a clear warning.
According to the report released on Wednesday, the world is heading for a "heavily signposted human development disaster" as it will fail to meet its targets for reducing poverty unless urgent and drastic measures are taken in global aid, opening up Western markets and the end of conflict.
The picture is indeed gloomy, a week prior to a world leaders meeting in New York for a UN summit to assess how much has been achieved towards meeting the millennium development goals (MDGs).
As a promissory note by 189 governments to the world's poor, the goals include halving extreme poverty, reducing child deaths by two-thirds and achieving universal primary education by 2015.
The report warns that the UN member states' progress has been "depressingly slow" and there will be no chance under current trends of fulfilling the promises made at the UN summit five years ago.
The UN report spells out the stark choice do more for the world's poor or face disaster, which is at stake in the negotiations on the draft outcome document for next week's world summit.
Still, many countries are falling further behind, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where the HIV/AIDS pandemic is dramatically reducing life expectancy and creating financial and social burdens that slow development.
The current generation of world leaders are at a crossroad since they risk going down in history as the leaders that let the MDGs fail on their watch.
However, the annual report, compiled by the UN Development Program (UNDP), pointed out that there has been some progress.
Since the UN Development Fund's first report in 1990, the world has witnessed an increase in life expectancy of two years in developing countries, 2 million fewer child deaths annually, an extra 30 million children in school and 130 million removed from extreme poverty.
These achievements should not be underestimated, but nor should they be exaggerated.
The scenario offers no cause for optimism as the promise to the world's poor is being broken.
The findings in the report are striking: At the current rate, 115 countries with a combined population of almost 2.1 billion, risk failing to meet at least one MDG until after 2040. This means they may miss the target and be off the track by an entire generation.
Eighteen countries 12 of them in Africa and the rest in central-eastern Europe with a combined population of 460 million, registered lower scores on the UNDP's human development index than in 1990. This is an unprecedented reversal.
Deep-rooted human development inequality is at the heart of the problem.
The world's richest 500 individuals have had a combined income that is greater than that of the poorest 416 million, and 40 percent of the world's population are living on less than US$2 a day per capita.
The development disaster will be counted in the millions of avoidable deaths and lost opportunities to cut poverty over the next 10 years. Yet the disaster is as avoidable as it is predictable.
It is time the rich countries offered more action than words.
Since 1990, increased prosperity in rich countries has done little to enhance generosity.
According to the UN report, for every US$1 rich countries spend on aid, they allocate US$10 to military spending.
Poverty is, to a large extent, the result of industrialized countries' imposition of unfair trade conditions that have resulted in huge foreign debts that hinder social progress and contribute to high levels of violence in developing countries.
Strategic aid, breaking down trade barriers and halting civil wars are vital to enable poor countries to develop and extricate themselves from the cycle of poverty.
In an increasingly interdependent world, where shared prosperity and collective security depend critically on successfully winning the war against poverty, nobody can afford to lose the poor or the rich alike.
(China Daily September 9, 2005)