Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on young people to hold political leaders to account for promoting development, an exhibition spotlighted the quest of youth for a better life and ceremonies were held around the world today as the United Nations system marked International Youth Day.
“I know you will not accept a world where others die of hunger, remain illiterate and lack human dignity,” Mr. Annan said in a message that stressed the importance of next month’s General Assembly summit of world leaders for reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of targets for curing a host of socio-economic ills by 2015.
“Today, there are almost 3 billion people in the world under the age of 25. More than half a billion of them live on less than $2 a day. More than 100 million school-aged children are not in school. Every day, almost 30,000 children die of poverty. And 7,000 young people become infected with HIV/AIDS,” he declared.
“All that can be changed, if we work together to meet the Millennium Development Goals.” These include halving extreme poverty and hunger, cutting child mortality rates by two-thirds and providing universal access to primary education and medical care.
“Next month, Heads of State and Government will meet at the United Nations for the 2005 World Summit – expected to be one of the largest gatherings of leaders ever,” he said. “I believe we will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address some of the most pressing challenges of our era.
“Leaders need to be reminded of their promise to translate the Millennium Development Goals into reality. That is where young people like you come in.Your voices can hold leaders to those pledges – at the 2005 Summit and beyond.”
At UN Headquarters in New York, UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Thoraya Obaid and Nane Annan were set to open a group photographic exhibition entitled “Chasing the Dream: Youth Faces of the Millennium Development Goals” at a gala reception in the Main Gallery of the General Assembly Visitors’ Lobby.
The exhibition brings viewers face to face with eight young people from different parts of the world, providing insight into the daily realities faced by youth as they pursue their dreams for a better life.
“It is time to make the well-being and inclusion of young people a top priority,” Ms. Obaid said in a message that also stressed the importance of the upcoming summit. “All over the world, young people are chasing the dream – the dream for a better life, for peace, for equality, for justice, employment, for freedom.”
UN outposts around the world marked the Day with messages and ceremonies. In Nairobi, Kenya, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) underscored the critical role young people can and must play in addressing environmental issues since they have a stake in the state of the environment today and in the future.
“By involving young people in environmental and sustainable development issues, UNEP seeks to foster a generation of environmentally conscious citizens who will better influence decision-making processes and act responsibly to create a sustainable world,” the agency said in a message.
In Vienna the UN Information Service noted that this year marks the 10-year appraisal of the World Programme of Action on Youth (WPAY), the strategy adopted by the UN in 1995 to strengthen its commitment to young people, to be able to address the problems of young people more effectively and to increase opportunities for their participation in society.
And on the front line of activities in the field, the UN mission in Afghanistan warned of the serious challenges it faces. “Under-five mortality is so high that 700 children die everyday around this country, many from preventable diseases,” UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) spokesperson Ariane Quentier said.
“Half of Afghanistan’s population is under 15, which means this country has one of the highest proportions of children and youth of any country in the world. The literacy rate remains one of the lowest. Despite a notable increase in school enrolment over the last four years, girls remain especially discriminated against in terms of education and learning opportunities. And limited opportunities for higher education, vocational training and employment, particularly in rural areas, are discouraging for young Afghans.”