Ban joins colleagues in compelling States to act against poverty

17 October 2008
Banners against poverty in the UK (file photo)

Senior United Nations officials today urged the international community to strengthen its efforts to lift the 1.4 billion people around the world living in abject poverty out of their desperate situation, as they marked the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that 60 years on from the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, hundreds of millions of people are still deprived of basic human rights such as food, housing, education and decent working conditions.

“Those forced to live in poverty often face social exclusion, discrimination and disempowerment. Poverty robs the poor of their human dignity,” Mr. Ban said in a message issued today.

He also highlighted the challenges posed by the current economic uncertainties, saying that rising food and fuel prices and the global financial crisis threaten to negate the progress made to reduce poverty and hunger in many parts of the world, with an estimated 100 million more people at risk of falling into poverty.

Mr. Ban reminded governments of their commitments to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the internationally agreed targets to halve extreme poverty and address other social ills by 2015 – saying that many had pledged new resources to bolster food security, eradicate disease, ensure access to water and sanitation, and manage the financial crisis.

“These commitments are not a matter of charity, but an obligation in the pursuit of human rights for all. If we fail to keep our promise on the MDGs, we create the conditions for greater human misery and global insecurity,” warned Mr. Ban.

Human rights challenges and poverty are often inextricably linked, noted Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a press release published today.

“International days such as this often stimulate fine words, but they need to be backed by deeds,” Ms. Pillay said.

“A true commitment… [for] effective action, which will improve the actual day-to-day life of almost one quarter of the world’s population who live in poverty, is still far from evident,” she added.

Ms. Pillay noted that poverty and inequality often exacerbate abuse, neglect and discrimination, denying millions the enjoyment of their civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights and ultimately their right to development.

While noting that an estimated 2 billion more people will be malnourished because of the recent increase in the cost of food and energy, the world must not forget that behind the figures and statistics lie the lives and unfulfilled hopes of human beings, of women, men and children across the world, said the Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG) Sergei A. Ordzhonikidze.

“Every person living in degrading poverty is a fellow human being. And this Day is their opportunity to have their voices heard,” said Mr. Ordzhonikidze.

It is the testimonies of the poor that will take the world beyond the abstract data and bear witness to the distress and despair of the vicious cycle of poverty, as well as the fortitude and determination of those who break the cycle, he told attendants of a ceremony at the Palais des Nations.

The current global financial crisis and looming economic recession will have acute and dire consequences for those already living poverty, warned Magdalena Sepúlveda, the UN Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty.

She highlighted the trillion dollars committed in recent weeks to rescue the financial system while noting that last month’s summit to renew the commitments to achieving the MDGs ended with pledges of $16 billion.

“Now more than ever, it must be understood that the protection of the fundamental rights of the poor is not a luxury that can be dismissed in time of economic hardship. It is a fundamental legal obligation that can never be ignored,” said Ms. Sepúlveda.

She also explained that those living in poverty are stripped of their human dignity, and regularly experience discrimination and violence, and denied access to justice.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan – one of the poorest countries in the world, with over 40 per cent of the population living under the poverty line and another 20 per cent hovering just above it – a UN appeal to help address the food insecurity crisis for 70 per cent of the nation is still under-funded.

“Afghanistan is at an important crossroads and much depends on moving forward with the key poverty-reduction objectives that are part of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy,” said the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) Chief of Human Rights Norah Niland.

“Now is the time to translate the commitments, made by the Government of Afghanistan and its international partners, into concrete realities so that children can be students, fewer mothers die in childbirth, female-headed households can hold their families together and more jobs can be created.”

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty has been observed every year since 1993, when the General Assembly designated the day to promote awareness of the need to eliminate poverty and destitution in all countries.


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