Delivering a commencement address at Northwestern University in Chicago, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged graduating students to take an active part in the efforts to tackle one of the major challenges facing humanity -- global poverty.
"There are powerful moral reasons to join this battle," the Secretary-General said in his speech at the university, where he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. "Extreme poverty is an affront to human dignity and human rights. It undermines universal values of equality and freedom. Solidarity with the poor is a cardinal tenet of all the world's great religions."
But there were also strong reasons of national security and enlightened self-interest, Mr. Annan stressed. "Drug trafficking, AIDS, pollution, conflict: these and many other problems are closely related to poverty," he said. "We see a vicious cycle, in which poverty breeds other ills, which in turn make it harder to escape from poverty."
Noting that more and more Northwestern students were studying abroad or devoting some of their post-university time to working in developing countries, Mr. Annan expressed hope that they would see themselves as global citizens for whom a long-term commitment to global causes was a defining personal test.
"We will not defeat poverty overnight, nor tackle the other issues of our times without that commitment," he said. "Tomorrow is when you must make your start for the world's sake and for your own."