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On the Fringes of the UN Summit in NY


On the Fringes of the UN Summit in NY

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Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) were out in force at the UN Summit in New York. While the world’s leaders discussed the Millenium Development Goals, activitists cheered them on from their soapboaxes and flagstones.

Joanna Kerr, the CEO of Action Aid, told Euronews: “We’re here to share our outrage at the fact that hunger has actually increased in the past ten years since world leaders commited to halving poverty and hunger. Right now, hunger costs poor countries a staggering 450 billion dollars per year. That’s due to loss of productivity, the fact that kids can’t go to school because they’re hungry, poor health. So we’re actually saying now if we invest in the money to tackle hunger that we said the governements will do, if we invest in it now it’s actually ten times cheaper than to actually tackling it later.”

Ten years ago, 150 countries promised to halve world poverty through 8 action plans in the fields of health, equality, environment and education.

In New York, NGOs wanted to show world leaders their support for these Millenium Development Goals and to encourage them to achieve those goals.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, managing director, World Bank said: “We want to make sure girls are in school, because if you educate a girl you educate a woman, you educate a household, a nation, and the world. Thank you!”

The goals are far from being fulfilled, although the action required is often very simple.

Kate Norgrove, head of campaigns at Water Aid explained: “4,000 children die a day from diarrhea. No one wants to hear about the basics of life; going to the toilet, and poop. So 884 million people don’t have access to clean water, and 2.6 billion don’t have access to sanitation which is a third of the world’s population. And the consequence is children dying every day from this simple illness, diarrhea, which can be sorted out through toilets and clean water. Its not that hard and governments just aren’t investing enough in it to make it happen.”

Nearly a billion people today are chronically hungry. 9 million children a year die of hunger-related diseases

Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst affected area. However, the continent has seen growth of 5% of GDP over the last ten years.

Sue Mbaya, Africa Director, World Vision said: “It’s important that our global partners in developed countries assist us, as African countries. But my challenge is equally to my own presidents on the African continent. Because it’s their women, it’s their children who are dying. They need to be more accountable for the way they use the resources that we have.”

Over three days, NGOs, world leaders and international experts chewed the fat. And finally several billion dollars more were promised. But talk comes cheap. Once out of the spotlight, it’s hard to get leaders to walk the walk…

Dominique Strauss Kahn, managing director of the IMF said: “The commitments made by rich countries must be kept. It’s absolutely scandalous that we are in a situation in which promises were made and politicians got all the glory for them, and yet finally the money never appeared.”

As a sideline, there was also a mini-summit to discuss the World’s “Most Fragile” states, which are still suffering the effects from violent conflict. This resulted in a plea for reform of aid development policies.

Eradicating poverty costs money, but it’s not just what you spend, it’s how you spend it that counts…

José Ramos Horta, the president of Timor Leste said: “Donor countries spend money on the following: first they do a pre-feasibility study, then they do a feasibility study. But before they do the pre feasibility and feasibility study, they send to the country countless technical experts. And then, they go through their lengthy bureaucracy, doing the procurement, to execute a particular assignment. We have this situation that happens a lot, whereby, when donor countries impose us conditions that we have to use a company from their own country, automatically, the cost is huge.”

New partnerships, new commitments to peace, and to supporting good governance, were on the menu at the talks – but donnor countries also want to see more commitment from poor countries themselves.

George Soros, Soros management fund said: “Generally when you can get a country to buy into the programmes, so that they have a sense of ownership, then it works much better. The trouble is that many of these countries you just can’t trust. If you have an ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) an aid department, they have to account for the money. And if they just give it to the government then it’s liable to disappear. Because many of the countries that are poor, are poor because they have bad governments.”

People from troubled regions all over the world gathered on the fringes of the summit, desperately hoping to be heard, to be remembered.

And it might not have been on the official agenda, but people also gathered to complain about the erosion of human rights.

At the end of the summit, there were the usual promises of more funds, the usual expressions of solidarity with the world’s hungry and poverty-stricken. But the official document was mealy-mouthed on the subjet of actual action.

NGOs however were not surprised by the lack of concrete commitments, and an agenda of deadlines for action.

Ray Offenheiser, the president of Oxfam America said: “I think the only thing that’s been approved is the idea of another summit of this sort in 2013. But the closer monitoring and mutual accountability among states has been much watered down over the course of the last several days.”

Colm Ó Cuanacháin, the senior director of Amnesty International said: “The spotlight’s not going to be on them, and they can continue to invest resources in issues around for example, defence or conflict, rather than investing in rights and solutions. Or they can continue to tolerate a situation where money is being syphoned off around corruption rather than into human rights programmes.”

Joanna Kerr, the CEO of Action Aid said: “The document that has been agreed upon is a very long laundry list. So now governments who had hoped for more say this is a document of aspirations. But the poor can’t wait for aspirations. They need actions, they need money. And they just can’t afford to wait another minute.”

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