In the last week of September, high-level government representatives descended on New York to attend the UN General Assembly to address a number of issues vital for the well-being of our planet. Putting people at the centre of development, meeting new population challenges and ensuring the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples – these were some of the topics on a busy agenda, where UN DESA played a crucial role providing support.
“This is a historic occasion – the UN’s first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples,” said UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo as the department was gearing up for back-to-back high-level events at UN Headquarters in New York. ”The adoption by the General Assembly of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 was a milestone. Now is the time for concrete actions to translate the principles and objectives of the UN Declaration into reality. The UN will make every effort to ensure the survival, dignity and well-being of indigenous peoples of the world,” Mr. Wu added.
Prior to the kick-off of a busy UN week, Mr. Wu launched the MDG Gap Task Force Report 2014 “The State of the Global Partnership for Development” at a press briefing together with Thomas Gass, UN DESA’s Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, Pingfan Hong, the Director of UN DESA’s Division for Development Policy and Analysis and Magdy Martínez-Solimán, UNDP’s Deputy Assistant Administrator. “With only one year ahead, we definitely need a strong sense of urgency and action,” Mr. Wu said, as targets for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to the global partnership to improve people’s lives and end poverty, showed mixed results on providing the poorest developing countries with greater access to aid, trade, debt relief, essential medicines and technologies.
Ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples now and beyond 2015
“I am pleased that in the World Conference outcome document Member States commit to give due consideration to all the rights of indigenous peoples in the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda”
UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General
As UN General Assembly events got underway, UN DESA provided support to two high-level events taking place back-to-back, and in parallel on 22 September. First off was the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP), convened as the first high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly’s 69h session, bringing together over a thousand indigenous and non-indigenous delegates to discuss the realization of their rights and the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Indigenous peoples represent remarkable diversity – more than 5,000 distinct groups in some 90 countries, making up more than 5 per cent of the world’s population, some 370 million people. These peoples continue to self-identify as distinct peoples with strong links to traditional territories with their own social, economic and political systems as well as unique languages, cultures and beliefs.
“I am pleased that in the World Conference outcome document Member States commit to give due consideration to all the rights of indigenous peoples in the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda,” Mr. Wu said as he addressed a panel event focusing on indigenous peoples’ priorities for the post-2015 development agenda and as he commented on the approval of the Conference Outcome Document on 22 September.
“We must intensify our work to ensure that policy commitments translate into programs and projects that directly benefit indigenous peoples, with their direct participation,” Mr. Wu added. “With just one year remaining to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, in many ways, we have been unable to address the development gaps indigenous peoples face. Nearly all available data shows that indigenous peoples fare worse in socio-economic terms than non-indigenous peoples. We must draw upon the lessons learned from the MDGs and we must do better this time around,” Mr. Wu said.
Putting people at the centre of development
Taking place on the same day as the WCIP on 22 September, the General Assembly held its special session on the follow-up to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development beyond 2014, marking 20 years since the landmark conference in Cairo that reinforced the principle that development should centre on people.
“This is an important opportunity for the international community to focus on the unfinished agenda of the ICPD Programme of Action and to reaffirm their commitment to placing people at the centre of development,” Mr. Gass said, as he briefed journalists ahead of this major event. “Let us recall that in 1994, Cairo achieved a remarkable consensus that the rights and well-being of individuals should be the central focus of efforts to promote social and economic development,” he added.
“Let us recall that in 1994, Cairo achieved a remarkable consensus that the rights and well-being of individuals should be the central focus of efforts to promote social and economic development”
UN DESA’s Assistant Secretary-General
Mr. Gass highlighted that progress since 1994 has been remarkable in many areas including gains in gender equality, advances in educational attainment, health, survival, human rights protection, poverty reduction and access to sexual and reproductive health services. “But many of the promises of the ICPD remains unfulfilled,” Mr. Gass explained. “Progress has been unequal and is often hampered by persistent discrimination and inequality,” he added. “New challenges have emerged including those linked to rapid urbanization, environmental change, economic transformation and increasingly complex migration trends”.
Moving the world forward into the future we want
The special General Assembly session brought together 73 representatives of Member States, including 18 Heads of State, who took the floor to reaffirm their commitments to the ICPD agenda. It also marked the beginning of the final year of negotiations on a new long-term post-2015 development agenda. “We must renew our pledge to protect people – especially women and girls – as we strive to eradicate extreme poverty, protect the rights and dignity of all people and secure the future of our planet for generations to come,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
In addition to high-level events during UN week, there are many major conferences, commissions, expert groups and other forums that meet throughout the year to address issues related to social, economic and sustainable development. UN DESA is there to assist, providing expertise and experience and thereby enabling nations across the globe to make decisions that will move the world forward into the future we want.
As the first week of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly is about to conclude, Mr. Wu reflects on the major events that have just taken place. “I am impressed by the big turnout at these events. It is a privilege and a great responsibility to be a part of this international process. I am also very proud of the hard work of my DESA staff. They are one of the most critical components in the global effort to eradicate poverty and create a better future for everyone,” Mr. Wu said.
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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals while speaking at a high-level event convened by the MDG Advocacy Group on 25 September. Organized by UN DESA in collaboration with a number of partners, the event featured the launch of a new publication as well as a data tool visualizing 14 years’ worth of MDG data from UN DESA’s Statistics Division.
Gathering 300 global leaders, the MDG Advocates’ event co-hosted by the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, showcased the successes of the eight MDGs to deliver a healthier, equitable and more sustainable future and it also launched the MDG Advocates’ Leaders Report, “Accelerating Action: Global Leaders on Challenges and Opportunities for MDG Achievement”, which was presented by MDG Advocate Graça Machel.
“The MDG Advocates play a crucial role in helping to keep the flame burning and continuously refocus international attention on this important agenda amidst numerous crises and other issues competing for public concern”
UN DESA’s Assistant Secretary-General
Authored by 37 world leaders, this unique publication looks at successful policies and interventions championed by governments and partners to drive progress on the MDGs, as well as obstacles faced and actions taken to overcome them. It was published with the support of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, UN DESA, the UN Millennium Campaign, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation and the UN Foundation.
“While the achievement of the MDGs depends on the action and commitment of governments as well as numerous organizations and of course individuals,” said Thomas Gass, UN DESA’s Assistant Secretary-General, “the MDG Advocates play a crucial role in helping to keep the flame burning and continuously refocus international attention on this important agenda amidst numerous crises and other issues competing for public concern.”
Challenges and opportunities for achieving MDGs by end of 2015
Led by the Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg and President of the Republic of Rwanda Paul Kagame, the MDG Leaders praise successes of improving people’s lives. But they also demand more action. The lives of millions of people worldwide have improved due to concerted efforts. During the past two decades, the likelihood of a child dying before the age of five has been nearly cut in half, which means about 17,000 children have been saved every day. The maternal mortality ratio dropped by 45 per cent. Antiretroviral therapy for HIV-infected people has saved 6.6 million lives. An estimated 3.3 million deaths from malaria were averted due to a major expansion of simple preventions, such as bed nets, and treatments. Efforts to fight tuberculosis have saved an estimated 22 million lives.
“The Millennium Development Goals have been the greatest anti-poverty push in history,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. “New partnerships have been established. New actors have been engaged. Now we must finish the job,” he urged. With many MDG targets already met – including reducing poverty, increasing access to clean drinking water, improving the lives of slum dwellers, and achieving gender parity in primary school – many more targets are also within reach by the end of 2015.
“All of us, whether in government, business, or civil society, have to keep pushing, not just to December 2015, but beyond,“ wrote the Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg. ”The MDG deadline, after all, is not the finish line of the race, and there will be neither medals nor rest.”
The unfinished business of the MDGs remains the focus of the MDG leaders who underlined the need to invest in education, adolescent girls and women’s empowerment, scaling up efforts to fight child and maternal mortality and investing agriculture as well as water and in sanitation to end open defecation.
“One way to accelerate progress is to share innovations by learning from the experiences of others,” Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, said. “We have to cultivate cross-sectorial efforts and broad partnerships in the year ahead so that we can accelerate synergies, including between education and health as well as gender equality. Our experience as leaders is that it is a common sense that often requires the most sustained advocacy.”
Visualizing 14 years’ worth of MDG data
“Reliable and robust data are critical for devising appropriate policies and interventions for achieving the MDGs and creating a better world for all”
Director of UN DESA’s Statistics Division
As part of the United Nations ongoing efforts to highlight the progress made on the MDGs, an initiative to map official data from UN DESA’s Statistics Division, in partnership with Microsoft was initiated by the UN Millennium Campaign. This new visualization represents an innovative approach to communicating progress made toward poverty eradication and galvanizes momentum for the final days for MDG realization. By using Microsoft’s Power View to demonstrate data in an accessible and digestible format, the aim is to tell the story of the progress made toward eradicating global poverty, and inspire continued global efforts.
“Reliable and robust data are critical for devising appropriate policies and interventions for achieving the MDGs and creating a better world for all,” explained Stefan Schweinfest, Director of UN DESA’s Statistics Division. “We have worked on monitoring the progress towards the MDGS since its start. Every month, millions of people download the global MDG report and the MDG data from our website. I am happy to collaborate with the UN Millennium Campaign to use MDG data visualization to communicate with policy makers and the public to promote development,” Mr. Schweinfest added.
Addressing the high-level event, the Secretary-General urged delegates to help focus on what he described as “two critical fronts” in the battle towards realizing the MDGs: accelerating progress towards meeting the MDGs and preparing for a post-2015 world. “We need a strong successor framework in place,” affirmed Ban Ki-moon. “Building mechanisms for effective partnerships and multi-stakeholder accountability will be critical to the success of the post-2015 development agenda.”
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“Too many, especially women and girls, continue to be denied access to adequate health care and sanitation, quality education and decent housing. Too many young people lack jobs and the skills that respond to market demands. Rising inequality in many countries — both rich and poor — is fuelling exclusion from economic, social and political spheres, and we know that the impacts of climate change and loss of biodiversity hit the poorest the hardest. All of this underpins the need for strong and responsive institutions,” the Secretary-General said.
“While poverty levels have declined significantly, progress has been uneven. Our impressive achievement in cutting poverty by half should not blind us to the fact that more than 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty worldwide”
The observance of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty can be traced back to 17 October 1987. On that day, over a hundred thousand people gathered at the Trocadéro in Paris, where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948, to honour the victims of extreme poverty, violence and hunger. They proclaimed that poverty is a violation of human rights and affirmed the need to come together to ensure that these rights are respected. In 1992, the General Assembly declared 17 October as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and invited all States to devote the Day to presenting and promoting concrete activities with regard to the eradication of poverty and destitution.
This year’s commemoration will be organized in partnership with the International Movement ATD Fourth World, the NGO Sub-committee for the Eradication of Poverty and UN DESA, supported by the Missions of France and Burkina Faso to the United Nations. A commemorative event will be held on Friday, 17 October in Conference Room 2 of the Conference Building from 1:15 pm to 2:30 pm. Additionally, a ten-part exhibition of collective artwork by people living in poverty will be featured in the 1B Corridor to the Vienna Cafe from 13 to 17 October. Each collection shows how the human act of creation—whether by rousing strength and hope, or bestowing a peaceful calm–helps people to hold their heads high, to come together in dignity, and to leave no one behind.
Leaving no one behind
The 2014 theme, “Leave no one behind: think, decide and act together against extreme poverty,” recognizes and underscores the demanding challenge of identifying and securing the participation of those experiencing extreme poverty and social exclusion in the post-2015 development agenda.
“The United Nations and the World Bank and all of us can end extreme poverty from this earth, to save everybody and to leave nobody behind. That is our priority and vision,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated earlier this year as he addressed an End Poverty Call to Action Event in Washington, D.C. taking place alongside the spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The call to “Leave no one behind” points to the urgent need to eliminate discrimination, marginalization and exclusion based on poverty, ethnic origin, gender, age, disability or economic and social status. It will require concerted action to actively reach out to the most impoverished and excluded groups in our societies. At the core of such action must be the alignment of development policies and targets, and their implementation, with human rights norms and standards, in keeping with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. As the Secretary-General has also said, “we must not fail the billions who look to the international community to fulfil the promise of the Millennium Declaration for a better world”.
Think, decide and act together against extreme poverty
The call “to think, decide and act together against extreme poverty” highlights the need to include people living in poverty as partners in building our understanding and knowledge of more sustainable forms of development. Local, national and international institutions must create genuine participatory mechanisms, with accountability and grievance mechanisms at all levels, while working as partners with communities to strengthen their own support organisations.
“The post-2015 development agenda calls for a single development framework with poverty reduction and sustainable development at its core”
UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General
In particular, we must promote and support an inclusive, equitable and sustainable economy. That is, an economy that protects the environment, fosters the creation of full employment and decent work opportunities for all, and ensures high quality education and healthcare with improved results for all, including people living in extreme poverty.
“The post-2015 development agenda calls for a single development framework with poverty reduction and sustainable development at its core. Development, however, will only be fully sustainable when its economic, environmental and social dimensions are integrated in a balanced way,” stressed UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo as he addressed the Commission for Social Development earlier this year.
Ultimately, the success of the post-2015 development agenda will depend on the full and meaningful participation of all people, actively supported by increased commitments at the political, economic, social and cultural levels in all countries.
In addition to the commemorative events to be held in New York on 17 October, celebrations of this international day are being organized worldwide. People from all corners of the world are also encouraged to help the United Nations to raise awareness about progress made and the challenges that remain in the fight against poverty. The online community is asked to use #EndPoverty to share messages about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the post-2015 development agenda and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty via social media.
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