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By Michelle Nichols | October 17, 2010 3:02 AM IST

As world leaders meet this week to review a U.N. bid to cut poverty and hunger by 2015, the Global Campaign for Education warned that the financial crisis had halted improvements in education for children in impoverished countries.

There are 69 million children out of school around the world, said a report on the world's 60 poorest nations by the campaign, a coalition of more than 100 organizations.

But if all those children could be educated to leave school with just basic reading skills, about 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, it said.

"If scientists can genetically modify food and NASA can send missions to Mars, politicians must be able to find the resources to get millions of children into school and change the prospects of a generation of children," said the campaign's president, Kailash Satyarthi.

A decade ago the United Nations agreed on eight Millennium Development Goals, which included ensuring that by 2015 all children will be able to complete primary schooling and that gender disparity in all levels of education be eliminated.

"The momentum of the last 10 years could still be harnessed to make education for all a reality within five years," said Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister and a member of the Global Campaign for Education High Level Panel.

"If education budgets are not protected from the ravages of the financial crisis all that progress could be jeopardized and generations will be condemned to poverty," he said.

The report estimated that $4.6 billion annually would be lost from education budgets in sub-Saharan Africa due to the impact of the global financial crisis. That amounts to a 13 percent drop in resources for each primary school pupil.

"Poor countries are on a worsening trajectory as severe and deepening pressure from the economic downturn caused by the crisis of the rich world's banking system bites on their budgets," the 34-page report said.

"The goal that could have the greatest impact on economic growth, improved health and social welfare and development is ensuring universal access to good quality education."

The worst places in the world for a child to try to get an education were Somalia, Eritrea, Haiti and the Comoros islands off Africa's east coast, the report said.

The study made several recommendations including that poor countries devote 20 percent of their budgets to education and that rich nations double their aid for basic education to $8 billion in 2011.

The World Bank on Monday pledged an additional $750 million in grants in the next five years to countries in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia that are falling behind in meeting the education goal.

The bank has contributed $12 billion to the Education for All Fast Track Initiative over the last decade, including $2 billion in the last year.

"We know what works so we have absolutely no excuses not to scale things up," Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, managing director of the World Bank, said at a news conference.

In sub-Saharan Africa, providing every mother with secondary education would save the lives of 1.8 million children every year, the campaign said.

(Additional reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Bill Trott)

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