Global perspective Human stories

Civic groups key to achieving Millennium Development Goals, UN meeting told

Civic groups key to achieving Millennium Development Goals, UN meeting told

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have a vital role to play in achieving the ambitious Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of overhauling the world's social fabric by 2015, from slashing extreme poverty and hunger to cutting infant mortality to curbing major diseases, a United Nations conference was told today.

If the Goals are not met, "we all will be poorer," Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the opening session of the 57th Annual conference of the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) and NGOs which has brought together at UN Headquarters in New York 2,700 representatives form more than 700 NGOs.

The Goals are different from the unmet bold pledges of the past, Mr. Annan said in a video message. First they are measurable; second, they have unprecedented political support, with all world leaders having signed on to them and NGOs having a key role to play in sustaining that political will; and third, with requisite national action and international support, almost every country can reach the Goals by the target date.

This year's three-day conference is devoted to the theme Millennium Development Goals: Civil Society Takes Action.

General Assembly President Julian R. Hunte of St. Lucia hailed the UN's partnerships with NGOs as mutually beneficial, extending the world body's global reach and helping to raise public awareness and ensure understanding of the issues before it. But he warned that to date, implementation was far from encouraging and much work remained to "right our balance sheet" and meet the targets.

Eveline Herkfens, the Secretary-General's Executive Coordinator for the MDGs campaign, said NGOs were the prime movers for change in extracting promises from governments and, through their passion and energy, trying to give a voice to the poor.

"Don't let your own government off the hook to be accountable to its own people on how your own resources are being used," she stated. Next year, governments come together to ask themselves where they are in achieving the Goals. "Don't wait, ask them that question today," she declared.

Noting the decades-long cooperation between the world body and NGOs who were indeed the "midwives of the UN," Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor told the gathering: "Have no doubt, your involvement and your commitment have a positive impact on our work and help us move closer to the lofty goals that we have set for ourselves."

For her part Renate Bloem, President of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the UN (CONGO), stressed that the MDGs could not be reached within the set time frame of 2015 without strong commitment and new impetus by civil society, whose input was crucial for the UN Millennium Summit of 2000 which adopted the targets.

The eight goals are: to halve the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and those suffering from hunger; ensure that all boys and girls complete primary school; eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015; reduce by two-thirds the mortality rate among children under five; reduce by three-quarters the ratio of women dying in childbirth; halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and the incidence of malaria and other major diseases; reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water; and forge a global partnership for development.