They were promised a brighter future, but in the 1990s the world's poor fell further behind
The widening gulf between the global haves and have-nots was starkly revealed last night when the United Nations announced that while the United States was booming in the 1990s more than 50 countries suffered falling living standards.
The UN's annual human development report charted increasing poverty for more than a quarter of the world's countries, where a lethal combination of famine, HIV/Aids, conflict and failed economic policies have turned the clock back.
Highlighting the setbacks endured by sub-Saharan Africa and the nations that emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union at the end of the cold war, the UN called for urgent action to meet its millennium development goals for 2015. These include a halving of the number of people living on less than a dollar a day, a two-thirds drop in mortality for the under fives, universal primary education and a halving of those without access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation.
The report said the 1990s had seen a drop from 30% to 23% in the number of people globally living on less than a dollar a day, but the improvement had largely been the result of the progress in China and India, the world's two most populous countries.
Despite some sporadic successes such as Ghana and Senegal, there was little hope of Africa meeting the UN's 2015 development goals; on current trends it would be 2147 before the poorest countries in the poorest continent halved poverty and 2165 before child mortality was cut by two thirds. Thirty of the 34 countries classified by the UN as "low human development" are in sub-Saharan Africa.
Taking issue with those who have argued that the "tough love" policies of the past two decades have spawned the growth of a new global middle class, the report says the world became ever more divided between the super-rich and the desperately poor.