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Global UN anti-poverty event shatters record by drawing nearly 39 million people

Global UN anti-poverty event shatters record by drawing nearly 39 million people

From universities and schools to soccer stadiums and parliaments, a record-breaking 38.8 million people around the world this week participated in the United Nations-led Stand Up against Poverty campaign, calling on international leaders to deliver on their pledge to end extreme poverty by 2015.

“It was extraordinary,” Kiyotaka Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Public Information, told reporters in New York, describing the sheer number of individuals who decided to “stand up and speak out” against poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the ambitious targets the world has set itself for slashing poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy by 2015.

More than 6,000 events were held in 110 countries during the 24-hour period from 16 to 17 October as part of the global campaign, led by the United Nations Millennium Campaign, an inter-agency initiative, in partnership with the Global Call to Action and a range of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), faith-based groups and civil society.

Among this year’s 38.8 million – which broke last year’s Guinness World Record of 23.5 million – were nearly 900 UN staff, diplomats and representatives of NGOs, who gathered yesterday on the lawn of the UN Headquarters complex in New York led by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

More than 300,000 students in Cairo also took part in the campaign, as did 472,000 children attending schools run by the UN agency providing aid to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon (known as UNRWA). Soccer fans in Brazil and Japan, as well as parliamentarians in Australia, were also among the participants.

“We are very happy to see this enormous number of people taking part in this campaign… to enhance the understanding and the realization of the MDGs, particularly to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015,” Mr. Akasaka stated.

The largest number of participants was in Asia (nearly 28 million), followed by Africa (7.5 million), the Arab region (2.5 million) and Latin America (734,000).

Mandy Kibel, Deputy Director of Communications for the UN Millennium Campaign, pointed out that the majority of participants were in the poorest countries. “What Stand Up did was to give them the opportunity to find voice on issues that matter to them.

“Stand Up essentially recognizes that there are people who are living in poverty who want to be able to speak for themselves, they want to find their own voice, and they want to address not us at the UN but their own governments and say ‘we have expectations that you deliver on the promises that you made.’”

The UN Millennium Campaign was established by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan in recognition of the need to engage all actors in society in the attainment of the MDGs.

“The recognition was that these Goals will never be achieved at the United Nations,” Ms. Kibel stated. “It’s only when citizens – civilians of specific countries – begin to say that they want to see these Goals achieved that we have any chance whatsoever of moving closer to the goal of ending poverty by 2015.”