18 October 2007


18 October 2007
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Nearly 39 million people worldwide stood up and spoke out against poverty during a 24-hour period on 16 and 17 October, Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information of the United Nations, told correspondents this afternoon at Headquarters.  It was, he said, a Guinness world record.

Briefing on the “Stand Up/Speak Out against Poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals” campaign on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Mr. Akasaka announced that 38,808,767 people had taken part in more than 6,000 events in 110 countries.  That broke last year’s Guinness world record of 23.5 million.  Asia had the greatest number of participants -- 27.6 million -- followed by Africa with 7.5 million, the Arab region with 2.5 million and Latin America with 734,000.

At the United Nations yesterday, he said, 900 United Nations officials, visitors and representatives of non-governmental organizations took part in the campaign.  Events had been held in universities, schools, soccer stadiums, parliaments, rock concerts and through the Internet.  In Cairo, Egypt, more than 300,000 students from some 700 schools had taken part.  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had organized its schools, with some 472,000 children, to take part in events in the Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  Before the Egypt-Japan soccer match began in Japan, 27,000 people stood up against poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals.  Something like that happened also during the Brazil-Ecuador match in Brazil.  Parliamentarians in Australia stood up on the lawns of their Parliament building.

He said the initiative was led by the United Nations Millennium Campaign in partnership with the Global Call to Action against Poverty and a range of non-governmental organizations, faith-based groups and civil society.  The Department of Public Information and the United Nations country teams around the world had supported the campaign, which was aimed to enhance the understanding and the realization of the Millennium Development Goals -- in particular to halve the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015.  He thanked all those who had helped organize the numerous events around the world.

Answering a correspondent’s question, Mr. Akasaka said it was the second year the campaign took place.  The idea had come up last year in light of the need to raise awareness of the Millennium Development Goals.  Being involved in the campaign meant a great deal to the participants.  By standing up against poverty, one realized what had to be done by the individual and by Governments to address infant and maternal mortality and other goals.  “You feel it,” he said.  “There is an enormous gap between just looking at the television sitting in your living room, and taking part in this campaign in schools, in parks, in rock concerts, in stadiums, wherever.”  He said he was pleased to see the enormous jump this year from 23.5 million people to the “gigantic number” of nearly 39 million.

Also taking part in the press conference, Mandi Kibel, Deputy Director of Communications for the United Nations Millennium Campaign, recalled that the Campaign had been established by the former Secretary-General in recognition of the fact that civil society, faith-based groups and non-governmental organizations had to be engaged in the Millennium Development Goals, because they would never be achieved at the United Nations.

She said it was only when civilians of specific countries began to say that they wanted the Goals achieved that there was any chance of moving closer to the target of ending poverty by 2015.  The campaign had not been supported by any Member State and had not been funded by any State.  It was very much a civil-society movement, with “everyday people” engaging in the campaign, as was shown by the fact that the majority of participants came from the poorest countries.

She said “Stand Up” had given the people a voice.  It was easy for people to be cynical about the “Year of Potato” or the “Year of Rice” when sitting in New York.  However, there were people for whom a potato or a bowl of rice meant the difference between life and death.  “Stand Up” was recognizing that there were people living in poverty who wanted to be able to speak for themselves and to address their Governments, asking them to deliver on promises.

Asked about a contract with the advertisement agency Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, Ms. Kibel she said Waggener Edstrom was not the only agency the campaign had worked with, but it was an agency with much expertise in online communications, which had become more and more powerful.  The agency had charged a minimal amount for the work done.  Other agencies, such as Grey Worldwide had worked pro bono. That showed that, even in that industry, there was a recognition that the campaign really needed to be supported.

To a correspondent’s remark that poverty had been a priority in 2000 and 2005, and that it was now a matter of implementation and delivery, Mr. Akasaka said the poverty rates in China and India had declined enormously.  The economic growth in Africa had been remarkable -- 5 per cent -- and the poverty rate had been declining.  The rate of decline, however, was still slow.  For Africa, a growth rate of 7 per cent was needed in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

He said further efforts were needed on the part of the individual countries, as well as on the part of the international community.  In 2002, and again in 2005, many donor countries had pledged to increase their official development assistance (ODA), but last year’s ODA had declined by 5.1 per cent.  Excluding debt relief, aid to Africa last year had not increased, while there had been a commitment to double ODA to Africa from $25 billion to $50 billion by 2010.  More efforts on the part of the international community were needed to implement their commitments.  The Stand Up campaign was also meant as a call on Governments to keep up with their commitments.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.