Violence in Iraq, massive human rights violations in Sudan, escalating demands for United Nations peace missions, and the inability of African countries to provide a social safety net for their citizens pose major challenges to achieving the aspirations of the UN Millennium Declaration, according to Secretary-General Kofi Annan's latest report.
Noting the Declaration, adopted by a summit of world leaders meeting at the UN in 2000, spoke of a world striving for peace and decent living standards for all, Mr. Annan stresses that despite progress in resolving differences "one of the most distressing features" of the past 12 months is the very large number of victims of terrorism.
This is not just true in Iraq but in many other countries. "Major attacks targeting civilians in Istanbul, Madrid, Riyadh and Haifa and Moscow are grim reminders of the scope and severity of the challenge we face," he declares.
He says that the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, where fighting among the army, rebel groups and militias, has led to extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and other massive human rights abuses resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands and the displacement of more than a million others, strikes at the very heart of the UN Charter and the Declaration.
"If we fail to act here, we lose not only lives but also all credibility," he states.
Mr. Annan calls the jump in demand for UN peace operations a welcome signal of new opportunities for the world community to help resolve conflicts peacefully, but one that will also stretch the world body's capacities to the limit and beyond. "Those opportunities can only be truly seized if the necessary commitments of political, financial and human resources are made and if each peace process is seen through to its completion," he warns.
Mr. Annan paints a mixed picture of progress in reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the Summit for transforming the world's social fabric by 2015, finding success in some areas and a major shortfall in others, especially sub-Saharan Africa.
Dividing developing countries into three groups, he notes that the first, comprising most of Asia and Northern Africa, is largely on track for halving extreme poverty by 2015 and achieving other key goals. The second group, mainly in West Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, has been making good progress towards some individual targets such as achieving universal primary education, but has been less successful in reducing poverty. The third group, sub-Saharan Africa and least developed countries in other regions, is far from making adequate progress on most of the goals.
On the goal of reducing child mortality, he notes that sub-Saharan Africa continues to have the highest level of under-five deaths at 174 per 1,000 live births, nearly twice the rate of the next highest region, Southern Asia, and more than 20 times that of developed regions.
With respect to improving women's health, recent estimates indicate "appallingly high rates" of maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. Of the 529,000 women who died in labour worldwide in 2000, 445,000 occurred in those two regions. On HIV/AIDS Mr. Annan notes that new infections in the last calendar year were higher than ever before, "raising serious concerns about the development prospects for whole regions of the world in which hundreds of millions of people reside."
On the goal of forming a global partnership for development, he stresses that the collapse of trade talks in Cancun, Mexico, last year - when developing countries sought to eliminate the subsidies and tariffs used by the developed world - was "a serious setback in efforts to create a level playing field" for the developing nations.
"With only 11 years to go until the 2015 deadline, 2005 will be a critical year, particularly in Africa," he reports. "The Millennium Development Goals are still technically feasible in even the poorest countries, but the window of opportunity is rapidly narrowing and the political will remains largely absent."
The Secretary-General calls on all countries - rich and poor - to play their part. Developing States will need to continue integrating the MDGs into their national strategies, while donor nations should incorporate them into bilateral programmes. For its part, the UN "must also prove that it can be agile," he writes.
"New realities call for new solutions," he says. "This coming year will be crucial."