If you pick up the recently published 2008 Guinness Book of World Records, you’ll find a new entry on page 91 for the largest number of people to stand up against poverty during a 24-hour period. A staggering 23,542,614 participated in 11,646 events around the globe to be part of the United Nations Millennium Campaign on October 15-16, 2006. From school children in Gaza to cricket fans in India, to African church-goers, celebrities and UN officials in New York and other major cities, millions joined a global campaign to remind world leaders of the promises they made at the Millennium Summit in 2000 to end poverty.
The organizers aim to double the number of those participating in this year’s Campaign to Stand Up and Speak Out on October 16-17. As 2007 is the midpoint between the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the 2015 target date, this year’s campaign is particularly important. The Campaign, a joint initiative by the United Nations Millennium Campaign and the NGO alliance, Global Call to Action Against Poverty, is supported by the United Nations and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The aim is not only to set a new Guinness World Record, but also to break the record of broken promises.
In addition to breaking last year’s Guinness World Record for the number of people who stood up against poverty, this year’s participants will also be challenged to outdo the 2006 Campaign’s diversity of events which ranged from a hip hop concert in Sao Paulo, to human chains of half a million young people from 64 districts in Bangladesh, to street performers beating drums against poverty in Jakarta to football teams and fans taking a break from the game to stand up and be counted.
More than just reminding world leaders of promises made in 2000, Standing Up Against Poverty and for the MDGs is an act of solidarity with those who are less fortunate and an opportunity to reflect on individual and collective responsibilities to help make the world a better place.
In the one minute it will have taken the average reader to read this far, some 34 people will have died from extreme poverty throughout the world (according to UN estimates, over 50,000 people die every day from extreme poverty). If that is not reason enough to Stand Up Against Poverty and for the MDGs, what is? One could think of the over half a million women who die each year from treatable and preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth; half the population in the developing world who lack basic sanitation; the 72 million primary school age boys and girls who are not in school; the 40 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS; or the 15 million children in Africa who have lost both parents to AIDS.
The Stand Up and Speak Out Campaign aims to raise awareness about the global effort to end poverty and to mobilize collective action to ensure that world leaders abide by the promises they made seven years ago at the Millennium Summit when 189 world leaders signed off on the Millennium Declaration, from which the eight Millennium Development Goals emerged. The eight Goals constituted a set of measurable targets for pressing global problems such as poverty and hunger, primary education, gender equality and women empowerment, child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, environmental sustainability and the need for global partnership for development.
According to the 2007 Millennium Development Goals Report, there has been a mixed collective record in achieving the MDGs. While there have been some gains and successes during the past seven years, there remains a clear need for political leaders to take urgent and concerted action or many millions of people will miss out on the basic promises of the Goals. In his introduction to the 2007 MDG Report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that the world wanted no new promises and that: “it is imperative that all stakeholders meet, in their entirety, the commitments already made in the Millennium Declaration, the 2002 Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development, and the 2005 World Summit . Mr. Ban believes that achieving the MDGs is still possible, but only if world leaders act now through nationally-owned development strategies and budgets backed up with adequate financing within the global partnership for development.
Aside from the symbolic act of Standing Up, the only other common feature between all events planned around the world will be the text of the pledge that will be read out urging leaders of wealthy countries to keep their promises on poverty, debt relief, more and better aid, trade justice and gender equality. It also calls on leaders of poorer countries to make saving the lives of their poorest citizens their first responsibility, to tackle inequality, to be accountable to their people, to govern fairly and justly, to fight corruption and to fulfill human rights.
The Stand Up, Speak Out Campaign website already has a listing of hundreds of events around the globe including dinner parties in Canada, football matches in Nigeria and a hand stand in Australia. Closer to home you will find that people from all walks of life will be taking part in Egypt through events at the Gezira Gardens in Zamalek, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, schools, universities and youth/sports clubs as well as a musical concert at El Sawy Culture Wheel in Cairo.
You too can be part of this effort either by joining an event already planned near you or by organizing your own Stand Up between 9 pm GMT on Oct. 16 and 9 pm GMT on Oct. 17, register it online and follow the steps outlined on the website: http:// standagainstpoverty.org
Stand Up, be counted.
Maher Nasser is the Director of the United Nations Information Center (Unic) in Cairo.