In churches and schools, in slums and outside posh hotels, on Indian cricket fields and in Mexican football stadiums, close to 24 million people participated in the United Nations-led “STAND UP AGAINST POVERTY” initiative to remind world leaders of their promises to eliminate extreme poverty by 2015.
Setting what UN officials said today was a new world record for such an anti-poverty event, STAND UP participants – all 23,542,614 of them – actually stood up from a squat and then recited a brief but emotional anti-poverty pledge. The record – achieved within a 24 hour period, 15-16 October – is to be verified by Guinness World Records, officials said.
“Together we have set an incredible record for the largest number of people standing up to demand action on poverty, but the record we really want to break is the world’s record of breaking promises and ignoring the poor,” said Eveline Herfkens, Executive Coordinator of UN Millennium Campaign, the main organizer, echoing the pledge read aloud by STAND UP participants. “This is the great issue of our times, let us become great by dealing with it decisively.”
The UN Millennium Campaign is working to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by a 2000 summit meeting to drastically reduce extreme poverty – halving 1990 rates by 2015 – among other targets on child health, and diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis.
The initiative was undertaken in partnership with the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) and was timed to coincide with the International Day for Poverty Eradication held on 17 October, and marked by multiple ceremonies around the world.
In a message for the Day UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said there has been “real but insufficient progress” towards meeting the MDG targets noting that extreme poverty declined from 28 per cent of developing world’s population in 1990 to 19 per cent in 2002.
Progress though was uneven both within and between regions and countries, he noted, with poverty rates in Western Asia and Northern Africa virtually stagnant and much of sub-Saharan Africa unlikely to meet the targets.
Mr. Annan said developed nations need to make good on their aid and debt relief commitments, and allow a freer and fairer international trading system, while developing nations, need to better use aid flows, improve governance and strengthen the rule of law, as part of national strategies to achieve sustainable growth.
At the same the Secretary-General regretted that the vaunted ‘global partnership for development’ – aimed at ending poverty, which he called the “central moral challenge of our age” – remains “more phrase than fact.
“This has to change,” he said, calling on all key development actors – governments, the private sector, civil society and people living in poverty – to “undertake a truly collective
In another statement issued today, Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that “poverty is often a cause, as well as a consequence” of human rights violations. “A marked characteristic of virtually all communities living in extreme poverty is that they do not have access, on equal terms, to the institutions and services of Government that give effect to human rights,” she said.
More than a half a million students and educational staff affiliated with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) ‘stood up’ in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, even as there has been a 17 per cent increase in the population of the occupied territories living under the internationally defined poverty line – to 72 per cent.
With 70 per cent of Gazans relying on food assistance, UNRWA is already stretched to its limits, now exacerbated by $100 million shortfall.
More than 18 million Asians participated; more than half were Indians. Africa was the second most active region with 3.6 million participants, led by Malawi over Nigerians, who placed second in the region.
Nearly 110, 000 Chinese participated, while slightly more Americans joined in, which was roughly twice the number recorded in all of Latin America. In Europe not quite 900,000 joined in, with second-placed Germany recording less than half of the 360,206 Spaniards that took part.