He said that with sufficient funds and political will, the fight against poverty, hunger, disease and inequality could be won.

Eight years after UN members set goals to cut world poverty levels in half by 2015, the UN meeting was called to take stock of progress made so far.

Other main goals are to reduce the maternal mortality rate by 75 per cent over the same time period, and decrease infant death rates by 66 per cent.

An audit by the UN showed not a single African country is on track to reach all the targets set out in the Millennium Development Goals.

Malaria goals

Ban said earlier this week that the fight against poverty can be won if rich countries provide some $72 billion a year.

He said successes in reducing deaths from malaria - Africa's biggest killer - through prevention and treatment showed progress could be made in tackling disease.

"We are close to containing this scourge," Ban said. "What we are doing with malaria, we should do with education, maternal health, climate and agriculture."

The World Bank on Thursday pledge $1.1 billion in fresh funding to fight malaria in Africa.

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, lauded the millennium goals, saying they had successfully focused the world's attention on the world's poorest citizens.

Greater innovation, he said, was now needed to tackle issues of disease, such as developing new preventative vaccines.

Financial crunch

Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, doubted whether the global poverty reduction goals could be reached in the current state of Western financial turmoil.

He said it was "sort of unfair" to talk about these goals when countries were being affected by a global credit crisis.

Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, however appealed to wealthy nations not to use financial turmoil as an excuse to abandon the millennium goals.

"This would be the worst time to turn back," he said.

He called for the investment of billions of dollars into African agriculture, saying there was a need to spark a green revolution in the continent.

He urged world leaders, businesses and civil society to "invest $10bn in Africa so it can help feed not just Africa, but feed beyond Africa with its exports".

"In the past, feed the world meant that we helped to feed Africa," Brown said. "In future, if we do things right, we will do best by enabling Africa to feed the world."

Robert Zoellick, the World Bank's president, expressed concern that the financial crisis, which has largely affected only richer nations so far, could spread to developing nations.

"In general, the developing world has provided some sources of growth in the midst of the turmoil, but now I am concerned with ripple effects of this most recent trauma could start to hit some of them more seriously," he said on the sidelines of the UN meeting.