Poor people can’t afford to be cynical about political promises.
This week, nine representatives of Irish Development NGOs are travelling to New York for a UN Summit that some commentators say is a failure even before it has begun. They do so, because they do not believe in cynicism, and because they want to influence a unique event – the coming together of the world’s leaders on issues of global poverty.
The Summit is organised by the United Nations to take stock of the world’s efforts to make extreme poverty history. Over three days, world leaders will gather at the headquarters of the UN to assess progress on the internationally agreed ‘recipe’ for fighting hunger, disease and malnutrition, contained in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The MDGs represent the most significant effort ever made by the international community to fight global poverty and inequality. When the Goals were agreed in 2000, it meant that for the first time ever, all the world’s Governments agreed not only on WHAT needs to be done, but also on HOW they were going to do it.
They agreed a series of Goals and initiatives, and agreed a division of labour: the Governments of developing countries have the primary responsibility for 7 of the Goals, and the 8th Goal, which has to do with resourcing the work, is the prime responsibility of the rich countries.
So when world leaders meet this week, ten years after their historic agreement, they will invariably find that the glass is either half full or half empty, depending on your point of view.
In recent weeks, a great many reports have been written detailing the areas where substantial progress has been made, as well as the areas where the MDGs are lagging or failing. And the Summit will add further analysis of what has worked and what has not.
It is easy to dismiss such gatherings. After all, to most observers it is very clear that we are a long way away from ridding the world of poverty: 1 billion people go to bed hungry, 2.5 billion people (nearly half of humanity) lack access to improved water and sanitation, and the global maternal mortality rate of 400 deaths per 100,000 live births has barely improved in 20 years.
But the key message coming out of the Summit, even before it has begun, is that the world does not want to accept failure. The very fact that the Summit is happening now, in the midst of a global crisis, states an important truth: the global community is acutely aware that more needs to be done and that ‘business as usual’ is not going to suffice.
World leaders know that a world where millions are unemployed, hungry and without hope, is a dangerous place, and they are aware that for the first time ever, they have the solutions at their finger tips.
And by meeting in New York, the Governments of the world have chosen to see the glass as half full. They have decided to focus on the opportunities and on the progress that IS being made:
– 200 million people who live in slums have got better houses.
– 1.6 billion people more have access to safe drinking water.
– 90% of children in developing countries can now go to school.
– the percentage of married women of child bearing age using family planning methods has increased by 60% in 20 years.
The list of successes is long. And growing.
This is no time for cynicism – it is time for action. It is time to intensify what works and to make use of an unprecedented opportunity: to be the generation that ends extreme poverty.