DESA News Vol. 13, No. 10 October 2009


Children and families speak out against povertyChildren and families speak out against poverty

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recognizes that "eradicating extreme poverty continues to be one of the main challenges of our time, and is a major concern of the international community. Ending this scourge will require the combined efforts of all, governments, civil society organizations and the private sector, in the context of a stronger and more effective global partnership for development”

As it is stated in General Assembly resolution 47/196 of March 1993, the eradication of poverty and destitution in all countries, in particular in developing countries, became one of the priorities of development for the 1990s. This priority has assumed greater importance since world leaders adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration in September 2000, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty with the Millennium Development Goals.

International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

On 19 October, when the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty will be celebrated at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, children and families will have the opportunity to speak out against poverty. The participation of people living in poverty and the recognition of their efforts to eradicate poverty has been the focus of the Day’s celebration since its very beginning.

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is celebrated all over the world on 17 October. This year, however, as 17 October falls on a Saturday and as World Food Day is celebrated on 16 October, the observance at the United Nations Headquarters in New York will take place on 19 October.

In proclaiming the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the General Assembly invites “all States to devote that Day to presenting and promoting, as appropriate in the national context, concrete activities with regard to the eradication of poverty and destitution”. It also invites intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to assist States, at their request, in organizing national activities for the observance of the International Day, noting that such activities will take into account those undertaken each year by certain non-governmental organizations.

This year, in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the protagonists of the celebration will be children and their families living in poverty and the event will be focused on the need to fulfill children’s rights in partnership with them and in keeping with the Convention. Despite efforts in recent years to eradicate poverty, the progress achieved world-wide has been uneven. Although some regions experienced reduced levels of poverty, in many countries it has been on the rise, especially among women and children.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted in 1989 to ensure that the world recognizes that children have their own rights which must be protected. The Convention lays out the basic rights of all children, which are: the right to survival; the right to develop to the fullest; the right to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and the right to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.

The Convention has four core principles: non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child. Extreme poverty prevents children from seeing their rights realized. It leads often to broken families, abuse and exploitation and other difficulties for surviving and developing.

Stand Up Against Poverty

Since 2005, millions of people mobilize around the world during three days in October under the slogan “Stand up – Take Action” to show their support for the fight against poverty during the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The initiative is coordinated by the United Nations Millennium Campaign and Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), to support citizens’ efforts to end poverty. This year’s global event will be held between 16 and 18 October.

The initiative is supported in more than 100 countries from both hemispheres and by a wide range of partners at the international and local levels to mobilize people towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. The 2009 events aim at demanding that world leaders do not use the financial crisis as an excuse for breaking the promise they made in 2000.

"In rich and poor countries, at concerts and sporting events, in universities and in houses of worship, millions of people showed that they will not remain seated in the face of poverty and broken promises to end it” said Salil Shetty, Director of the UN Millennium Campaign.

Millions of people living in poverty

Poverty is not only a lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods. It is much more. It is hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion, the lack of participation in decision-making.

Poverty means also having to walk more than one mile everyday simply to collect water and firewood, or suffering from diseases that were eradicated from rich countries decades ago. It means that, today, nearly 2.6 billion people in the world live on less than $2 dollars a day and 1.4 billion try to survive on just $1.25 dollar a day.

In 2007, according to UNICEF, approximately 9.2 million children under the age of five died from causes that were largely preventable, such as malaria and malnutrition. In the same year, 72 million children worldwide were denied education. Currently, 75 million children are out of school and 776 million adults, predominantly women, do not have basic literacy skills. In some less developed nations, children in the poorest 20 per cent of the population are three times less likely to be enrolled in primary school than those in the wealthiest 20 per cent.

United Nations initiatives to end poverty

For the General Assembly, eradicating poverty is the greatest global challenge facing the world and a basic requirement for sustainable development. Consequently, it proclaimed, in December 1995, the First United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006), with the theme "Eradicating poverty is an ethical, social, political and economic imperative of humankind."

In 2000, after years of conferences and summits, world leaders came together at United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration , committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty. They set out eight targets with a deadline of 2015, named the Millennium Development Goals.

The first of these Goals aims to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, and has three principal objectives: to halve, between 1990 and 2010, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day, to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including woman and young people and to halve, between 1990 and 2010, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

Ten years after the end of the First United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, in December 2007, the Second United Nations Decade for Eradication of Poverty (2008-2017) was proclaimed. It aims at supporting the development of goals related to poverty eradication, including the Millennium Development Goals. It was a recognition of the importance of mobilizing financial resources for development at national and international levels. The proclamation also recognizes that sustained economic growth, supported by rising productivity and a favorable environment, including private investment and entrepreneurship is vital for rising living standards.

Art, another way to involve children in the fight against poverty

Over 12,000 children from all over the world participated in 2006 in the International Children’s Art Competition in the 20th anniversary of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The competition was organized by DESA in collaboration with the Department of Public Information (DPI) and the United Nations Postal Administration, to celebrate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and the First United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty.

The children were invited to design a United Nations stamp on the theme “We can end poverty”. Through children’s pictures it was demonstrated that poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon and a variety of actions can lead to its eradication. They conveyed that richer countries and individuals should help those in need.

The children drew solidarity, cooperation and fairness as key values indispensable for ending poverty. Many children pointed to the existence of inequality and divisions in the world and suggest greater sharing and unity. Many gave emphasis to the importance of love and compassion. Numerous pictures showed the significance of education for poverty eradication.

Several children from developing countries showed the importance of small-scale agriculture for self-sufficiency. Many thought that employment, urbanization and the promotion of technology can help end poverty. Children from countries in conflict stressed that the world needs peace and security to end poverty.

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Gauging the progress of the global partnership for developmentGauging the progress of the global partnership for development

In words of the Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, “the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are more than a set of targets; they are a solemn promise to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Noting that better economic times helped to strengthen the global partnership for development, the international community must show that it "can also work together in bad times – when the poor, the sick and the vulnerable need us most"

Despite visible efforts, important gaps remain in delivering the global commitments called for by the eighth MDG: “Develop a Global Partnership for Development”. In order to improve the monitoring of global commitments, the Secretary-General of the United Nations created in 2007 the MDG Gap Task Force to track the international commitments and their realization at the international and country level on official development assistance, market access, debt relief and access to essential medicines and technology.

The Task Force integrates more than 20 UN agencies, including participation from the World Bank and the IMF, as well as the OECD and WTO. The United Nations Development Programme and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) of the United Nations Secretariat are the lead agencies in coordinating the work of the Task Force.

As a result of this inter-agency coordinated action, two annual reports have been published so far. The 2009 report, entitled Strengthening the Global Partnership for Development in a Time of Crisis, was launched on 16 September at a press conference in New York by the Deputy Secretary-General, together with Mr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, DESA and Mr. Olav Kjørven, Director of the Bureau for Development Policy at UNDP and Mr. Rob Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division of DESA.

As the Secretary-General wrote in the preface of the Report “the challenge now is to ensure that those resources are delivered and this report identifies what needs to be done. It demonstrates how to deal with existing and emerging gaps between commitment to and achievement of MDG 8, which is to develop a global partnership for development. Above all, it underlines the importance of a full and accelerated delivery on all commitments, which is crucial to our efforts to build a more secure and prosperous world for all”.

Some encouraging signs

The report, although showing many gaps in the achievement of MDG 8, projects some encouraging signs. Donor countries have increased aid flows and reaffirmed pledges to further increase them. However, a country-by-country account of how those aid increases would be delivered each year still needed.

In spite of that increase, to meet 2010 targets agreed at the 2005 Group of Eight (G-8) Summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, global aid would need to increase by $35 billion annually from the present levels, of which $20 billion would need to be earmarked for Africa.

Further, debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative have helped many developing countries to devote resources to health, education and social services, but more support is needed.

Trade barriers set up in response to the global financial crisis have to be unwound and the Doha Round of multilateral trade talks should be concluded on terms that support development.

While highlighting progress in increasing access to information and communications technologies, the report urged that more needs to be done to prevent the global crisis from undoing past gains. In particular, ensuring that climate change technologies are affordable would be critical to talks at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen this December.

Strengthening the global partnership for development

Mr. Jomo, speaking on behalf of Under-Secretary General Sha Zukang, stressed the importance of monitoring progress in delivering on and strengthening the global partnership for development, Goal 8, quantitatively and qualitatively.

For example, total net aid from countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee amounted to only 0.3 per cent of their combined gross national income in 2008–while the United Nations target is 0.7 per cent.

Mr. Jomo claimed that enormous efforts will be needed to fill that gap. In addition, active trade policies were also badly needed in the face of protectionist trends and an alarming 20 per cent fall in global trade from April 2008 to April 2009.

More efforts are also needed in helping developing countries to manage their external debt. By the first quarter of 2009, 35 of 40 eligible countries had qualified for debt relief under the HIPC initiative. Nevertheless, Mr. Jomo said, as the financial crisis had made their prospects uncertain, the international community should broaden its efforts.

Furthermore, the international community should also ensure affordable access to generic medicines, as people living in developing countries were paying three to six times international reference prices.

Although progress has been made in increasing access to information and communication technologies, those living in developing countries, were paying ten times more for internet services than those living in developed countries. As Mr. Jomo said, the private sector should work with public telecommunication companies and regulators to address that issue.

Mr. Vos added that there was concern with limited progress made under the Paris and Accra Declarations to harmonize and improve the quality of the delivery of aid. While it was true that donor countries had not fully disbursed aid commitments, aid would not be effectively delivered if national programmes were not in place.

Effort makes progress possible

Mr. Kjørven, Director of the Bureau for Development Policy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), recalled that the nine years before the global economic crisis had seen “encouraging achievements” towards reaching the Goals.

As an example, Mr. Kjørven said that the number of people living in extreme poverty had fallen from 1.8 billion in 1990 to 1.4 billion in 2005. In sub-Saharan Africa, school enrolment increased by 15 percentage points from 2000 to 2007. In addition, despite population growth, deaths of children under 5 years old had dropped worldwide, from 12.6 million in 1990 to 9 million in 2007.

Mr. Kjørven said that these examples showed that progress was possible in the face of seemingly intractable challenges. He added that now, donors at the upcoming Group of 20 meeting must help prevent catastrophic reversal in human development and follow through on MDG commitments. Mr. Kjørven asked for a “broader perspective than just fixing the global financial system per se” and noted that one has to have “a view to human development and the significant risks and reversals that are now occurring”.

Duty free and quota-free access to exports

Asked about the Governments’ commitments to give duty-free, quota-free access to 97 per cent of developing country exports, Mr. Jomo said that the outstanding issues included non-agriculture market access, as developing countries wanted to retain provisions that allowed them to protect domestic markets, particularly in order to ensure food security.

While the original request was for a 100 per cent access, the commitment made in 2005 was to increase market access from an average of 80 per cent to 97 per cent. It was feared that the 3 per cent excluded might be in areas where least developed countries could be the most competitive. “This is at the root of the problem”, Mr. Jomo said, adding that the list of outstanding issues had been reduced.

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Opportunity to avoid catastrophic climate change is in our hands

Opportunity to avoid catastrophic climate change is in our hands

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced optimism that negotiations for an ambitious new climate change agreement are on the “right track”, after he wrapped up the largest-ever high-level gathering on climate change on 22 September. Mr. Ban also warned that momentum must be maintained in the run-up to December’s conference in Copenhagen to ensure success. Mr. Ban said he felt a “sense of optimism, urgency and hope” to emerge from the summit, which drew some 100 heads of State and government, that governments are determined to ‘seal a deal’ in Copenhagen.

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