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United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark gives a speech during an announcement event of the Global Launch of Human Development Report 2014 at the United Nations University Headquarters in Tokyo July 24, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Governments must act together to lift more people out of poverty and reduce inequality, a United Nations agency said on Thursday, warning that global improvement in life expectancy, education and other measures of development is flagging.

"Capabilities can be enhanced and choices protected at the national level, but national measures are more easily enacted when global commitments are in place and global support is available," the UN Development Programme said in its annual Human Development Report.

UN Administrator Helen Clark, a former New Zealand prime minister, said governments must focus on eradicating poverty even as they grapple with natural disasters.

"It's not acceptable that so many people are still living in extreme poverty or very, very vulnerable to it," Clark told Reuters in Tokyo, where this year's report was released.

"It's not a time to give up on development, it's a time for all the traditional friends of development, like Japan, to be saying, 'What more can I do?', 'What better could we do?'"

More than 2.2 billion people, or 15 percent of the world's population, live near or in poverty, the report says. More than 1.5 billion people - nearly half of all workers - are in "informal" or precarious employment.

Although Japan ranks high on overall development, it fares much worse on gender equality, underscoring Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's drive for greater participation by women in the world's third-biggest economy.

Japan ranks 17th of 187 countries on the UNDP's human development index, down a notch from last year, but ranks only 79th for gender equality.

Abe vowed at the Davos World Economic Forum in January that women would occupy 30 percent of leading jobs in Japan by 2020, helping replenish a dwindling workforce as the population ages rapidly. But with women now filling just 1 percent of corporate executive committee jobs, the target is ambitious.

Nissan Motor Co Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said last week that rushing to meet such a target could set the carmaker and its staff up for failure.

Economy Minister Akira Amari told Reuters this month he was not keen to force numerical quotas, even in government positions. "If there aren't the right people but you force it, the means become the target," he said.

On the UNDP's human development index - a composite of life expectancy, education and income statistics - Norway ranks first and the United States ranks fifth.

(Reporting by Minami Funakoshi; Additional reporting by Katie Forster; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Reuters