A Thousand Days to Keep the Millennium Promise
Op-Ed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but starting this week we can march a thousand days forward into a new future.
On April 5th, the world will reach a vital moment in history’s largest and most successful anti-poverty push – the 1,000-day mark before the target date to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
These eight concrete goals were set in the year 2000, when more leaders than ever before gathered at the United Nations and agreed to cut global poverty and hunger by half, fight climate change and disease, tackle unsafe water and sanitation, expand education and open doors of opportunity for girls and women.
It was not the first time leaders had made lofty promises. Cynics expected the MDGs to be abandoned as too ambitious. Instead, the Goals have helped set global and national priorities, mobilize action, and achieve remarkable results.
In the last dozen years, 600 million people have risen from extreme poverty – a fifty per cent reduction. A record number of children are in primary school -- with an equal number of girls and boys for the first time. Maternal and child mortality have dropped. Targeted investments in fighting malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis have saved millions of lives. Africa has cut AIDS-related deaths by one-third in just the past six years.
There are also Goals and targets where we need far more progress. Too many women still die in childbirth, when we have the means to save them. Too many communities still lack basic sanitation, making unsafe water a deadly threat. In many parts of the world, rich and poor alike, inequalities are growing. Too many are still being left behind.
To accelerate action, the international community should take four steps now.
First, scale up success through strategic and targeted investments that have a multiplier effect, boosting results in all other areas: one million community health workers in Africa to serve hard-to-reach areas and keep mothers and children from dying of easily preventable or treatable conditions; scaled-up investments in sanitation; universal access to primary health services, including emergency obstetrical care; and adequate supplies to address HIV and malaria.
Ensuring equal access by women and girls to education, health care, nutrition and economic opportunities is one of the most powerful drivers of progress across all the Goals.
Second, let us focus on the poorest and most vulnerable countries, home to some 1.5 billion people. Often dogged by famine, conflict, poor governance and large-scale organized criminal violence, these countries are finding it most difficult to make progress despite their best efforts. Many have not yet achieved a single MDG. By investing in regions such as the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and Central Asia, we can promote a virtuous circle of economic development, human security, and peace building.
Third, we must keep financial promises. Budgets cannot be balanced on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable. It is ethically unacceptable and it will help neither donor nor recipient. Despite austere times, many countries have been exemplary in honouring pledges. New donors among the emerging economies are also stepping forward. We should applaud these efforts and encourage more.
Fourth, the 1,000-day mark should be a call to action to a global movement from governments to the grassroots who have been so critical to success. We should also harness the full power of technology and social media – opportunities that were not available when the Goals were formulated at the turn of the century.
The MDGs have proven that focused global development objectives can make a profound difference. They can mobilize, unite and inspire. They can spark innovation and change the world.
Success in the next 1,000 days will not only improve the lives of millions, it will add momentum as we plan for beyond 2015 and the challenges of sustainable development.
There will be much unfinished business. But, as we look to the next generation of sustainable development goals, we can find deep inspiration knowing that the MDGs have shown that, with political will, ending extreme poverty is achievable and within our grasp.
Let us make the most of the next 1,000 days and make good on our Millennium promise.
Everyone Needs A Place to Go
Op-Ed by Jan Eliasson, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General
Keo Samon, a rice farmer in southeastern Cambodia, had no toilet in her home. Nor was there even an outhouse or latrine for Keo and her husband and five daughters. Instead, they would defecate on land around the home, or in the rice fields.
That changed after the Water Supply and Sanitation Council, a United Nations partner, began to work with her village. Keo’s family, along with 30 others, attended community-led awareness sessions, built simple dry toilets and joined the drive to make their village ‘open defecation-free’.
“In the past, I did not know the consequences of defecating outdoors. It was simply my habit, like others in my village. We were not aware of the importance of good hygiene. But now, I am very excited to have my latrine,” Keo said.
What good does a toilet do? More than you may imagine. Adequate sanitation prevents disease or malnutrition caused by contaminated water. Open defecation – practiced by more than 1 billion people around the world – is among the main causes of diarrhoea, which kills more than three quarters of a million children, aged five or under, each year.
Sanitation is also a necessary path to protection and empowerment for women and girls. When schools lack toilets, girls stay home when they are menstruating. When adequate sanitation is unavailable, women and girls are forced to take their private needs to the open, leaving them subject to sexual abuse.
Finally there is the economic argument. Poor water and sanitation costs developing countries around $260 billion a year -- 1.5 per cent of their gross domestic product. On the other hand, every dollar invested can bring a five-fold return by keeping people healthy and productive.
So, it is difficult to understand why, in 2013, 2.5 billion people around the world still lack access to adequate sanitation. More people have cell phones than toilets in today’s world.
Since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the year 2000, global poverty rates have been reduced by half. So has the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water. 200 million slum dwellers live better lives. Enrolment in school has increased dramatically. The global mobilization behind the MDGs has been a remarkable success that has changed the world’s approach to development for the better. Yet, with just over 1,000 days remaining before the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs, we are not even close to reaching the goal on proper sanitation. That is why I am, on behalf of the Secretary-General and the UN, launching a call to action on sanitation as we mark the beginning of the International Year on Water Cooperation.
There are three things we can do to speed up progress on sanitation. First, we should speed up the elimination of open defecation – country by country, community by community, family by family. We need to talk about the problem, not turn our heads away from a subject many find uncomfortable.
Second, we need to strengthen cooperation. The water and sanitation challenge is everybody’s business. We need everyone to play their part. National governments need to lead by making commitments. Local governments can work with communities to help them to help themselves. The private sector can invest in the health of their employees and the environment. And civil society organizations can monitor progress and advocate for solutions.
Third, we should scale up the projects that work. Simple, affordable actions have already proved their worth. Between 1990 and 2010, about 1.8 billion people gained access to sanitation – a significant achievement. Many countries have tackled this problem within a generation.
Doing nothing is not an option. The social, economic and environmental cost is simply too high. Let us commit now to end open defecation and provide adequate sanitation and safe water for all – so women and girls can live with dignity; so our children can survive and communities can thrive.
Keo in Cambodia reports that all her family members are now using the latrine. They are drinking safe water. “I ask all families in my village to start building latrines for their use. This will help our village to end open defecation and bring good health for everyone, especially our children.”
Keo has set an example. Let us follow -- one community at a time. Nobody can do everything - but everybody can do something.
Violence against Women: Turning Outrage into Action
Op-Ed By UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2013
As we commemorate International Women’s Day, we must look back on a year of shocking crimes of violence against women and girls and ask ourselves how to usher in a better future.
One young woman was gang-raped to death. Another committed suicide out of a sense of shame that should have attached to the perpetrators. Young teens were shot at close range for daring to seek an education.
These atrocities, which rightly sparked global outrage, were part of a much larger problem that pervades virtually every society and every realm of life.
Look around at the women you are with. Think of those you cherish in your families and your communities. And understand that there is a statistical likelihood that many of them have suffered violence in their lifetime. Even more have comforted a sister or friend, sharing their grief and anger following an attack.
This year on International Women’s Day, we convert our outrage into action. We declare that we will prosecute crimes against women – and never allow women to be subjected to punishments for the abuses they have suffered. We renew our pledge to combat this global health menace wherever it may lurk – in homes and businesses, in war zones and placid countries, and in the minds of people who allow violence to continue.
We also make a special promise to women in conflict situations, where sexual violence too often becomes a tool of war aimed at humiliating the enemy by destroying their dignity.
To those women we say: the United Nations stands with you. As Secretary-General, I insist that the welfare of all victims of sexual violence in conflict must be at the forefront of our activities. And I instruct my senior advisors to make our response to sexual violence a priority in all of our peace-making, peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities.
The United Nations system is advancing our UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, which is based on the simple but powerful premise that all women and girls have a fundamental human right to live free of violence.
This week in New York, at the Commission on the Status of Women, the world is holding the largest-ever UN assembly on ending violence against women. We will make the most of this gathering – and we keep pressing for progress long after it concludes.
I welcome the many governments, groups and individuals who have contributed to this campaign. I urge everyone to join our effort. Whether you lend your funds to a cause or your voice to an outcry, you can be part of our global push to end this injustice and provide women and girls with the security, safety and freedom they deserve.
Second Anniversary of Fukushima - 11 March 2013
Op-Ed By Dr Wolfgang Weiss, Chair, UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) Fukushima Assessment
On the surface, during my recent visit to Fukushima last month, the city seems to have picked itself up and dusted itself off. The strength and stoic nature of the Japanese seemed much in evidence, as people went about their daily business. That is, till you look again, and see some wearing masks. Or overhear a conversation about how individual households now own dosimeters.
I appreciate that the real problem lies in the villages of Fukushima prefecture. And that there are more than four interpretations of the word “stigma” in Japanese, and many, if not all of them, are being felt by the people who live here. That pregnant women have fled because they worry about the damage to their unborn children. That the people of Fukushima wonder whether they are victims or survivors. And if there is anyone who will tell them what to believe.
Today is the second anniversary of the series of events that shook Japan one fateful day: a magnitude 9 earthquake and a giant tsunami wave that took more than 15,000 lives, leaving a trail of death and destruction. And following that tragedy, a nuclear disaster that is the worst in recent times – since Chernobyl in 1986.
While I have a finger on the pulse of the scientific community’s assessment of the health and environmental consequences due to radiation exposure, I wanted to know what the world was saying about Fukushima. A simple Google search turned up headlines like “catastrophic..”, “radiation fears continue to rise” and more in the same vein. Living in a world where bad news is good news, I should have not been surprised, or even taken aback. But I should say, in this case, perhaps a little bit of positivity and looking forward may not be a bad thing after all.
There is no doubt that this was one of the worst civil nuclear disasters ever. It drove many from their homes, their lives, their context. Nobody wants to go to the beach – one even reads reports about children in Fukushima being more overweight as compared to the Japanese average, as their mothers are afraid to let them go outside to play.
Do you know what else is true? For the great majority of people in Japan, the additional radiation exposures received to date due to the accident, are less than or equal to the doses received each year from natural background radiation. And despite the fact that people were uprooted from their homes and lives when evacuated, this upheaval significantly reduced the radiation exposures that they could have received.
In real terms, the risk to health from radiation exposure is likely to be small and statistically insignificant, in comparison with a variety of hazards daily life poses.
And despite the fact that I am an expert on radiation, what I worry about more is the well-being of people of this prefecture. Past experience (from Chernobyl) has shown us where the real problem lies. The long-term impact on mental health and well being in the general population is a source of real concern, as pointed out by the World Health Organization (WHO): Psychological impact can outweigh direct radiological consequences in terms of health risk. A recently published report by Japan’s Reconstruction Agency indicates that the stresses of personal involvement in the evacuation, management and clean-up related to the Fukushima nuclear accident have emerged as the biggest factors in ill health for Japanese people.
More than 80 leading international scientists are putting their heads together for the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). The report that they will finally present to the United Nations General Assembly later this year will be the most comprehensive scientific analysis of the information available to date. UNSCEAR is known for its independent, unbiased reports – it does not owe allegiance to any organization, Government or private business. It answers to the General Assembly – the largest collection of nations under one roof, and is guided by scientific principles and the principles of the United Nations as enshrined in its charter.
The numbers that will be put together will cover the entire gamut – from radiation exposures of the people in Japan and of workers and rescuers via the associated health risks to effects on the natural environment all in one place. They will tell their own story, when the report is published in the autumn. But it would be safe for me to say this, as Chairman of the UNSCEAR Fukushima Assessment, and as a fellow human being: Life is for the living. Go on, and live it..
A Call to Ambition
Op-Ed by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon
Each year at this time, leaders gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York to assess the state of the world. This year, I used the occasion to sound the alarm about our direction as a human family.
We are living through a period of profound turmoil, transition and transformation. Insecurity, inequality and intolerance are spreading. Governments are wasting vast and precious funds on deadly weapons while reducing investments in people. Too many people in power seem willfully blind to the threat of climate change. Citizens yearn for jobs and the prospect of a decent life, but all too often they get divisiveness and delay instead.
There have some important steps forward. Extreme poverty has been cut in half since the year 2000. Democratic transitions are under way in the Arab world, Myanmar and elsewhere. Africa’s economic growth has become the fastest in the world. Asia and Latin America are making important advances.
Still, we must raise our levels of ambition. Poverty and inequality remain rampant. Ecosystems are reaching the breaking point. The world’s best science is irrefutable: we must change course. That is why I have urged world leaders to press ahead with initiatives on sustainable energy, education, nutrition and women’s and children’s health. The economic crisis should not be an excuse to default on commitments to the basics that all people need.
Regional tensions are also deeply troubling. The crisis in the Sahel is not getting sufficient attention and support. Poverty, fragility, drought, extremism and sectarian tensions are causing immense suffering; arms are easy to obtain, but jobs are hard to find. The international community needs a major concerted effort to address this alarming situation. The crisis also highlights the need to strengthen food security, nutritional resilience and social safety nets to counter the frequent price shocks that have become the new norm. Just as sensors and seismographs help us prepare for natural disasters, so must we do more to detect the tremors of distress facing the poorest and most vulnerable.
The situation in Syria grows worse by the day, and has become a regional calamity with global ramifications. We must stop the violence and flows of arms to both sides, and set in motion a Syrian-led transition as soon as possible. Brutal human rights abuses continue to be committted, mainly by the Government, but also by opposition groups. It is our duty to put an end to impunity for international crimes, in Syria and elsewhere, and to give tangible meaning to the responsibility to protect.
As the winds of change in the Arab world and elsewhere continue, we need to break the dangerous impasse between Palestinians and Israelis. The two-state solution is the only sustainable option, yet the door may be closing. I also reject both the language of delegitimization and threats of potential military action by one state against another. Any such attacks would be devastating. The shrill war talk of recent weeks has been troubling -- and should remind us of the need for peaceful solutions and full respect for the UN Charter and international law. Leaders have a responsibility to use their voices to lower tensions instead of raising the temperature and volatility of the moment.
This is all the more important at a time of heightened tensions over intolerance. In recent weeks a disgraceful act of great insensitivity has led to justifiable offense and unjustifiable violence. Freedom of speech and assembly are fundamental, but neither of these freedoms is a license to incite or commit violence. Responsible political and community leaders must step up at this time. The moderate majority should not be a silent majority.
With so much at stake, the United Nations must keep pace across the spectrum of its activities – peace, development, human rights, the rule of law, the empowerment of the world’s women and youth. People do not look to the United Nations to be simply a mirror reflecting back a divided world. We are meant to provide leadership, hope and solutions to the problems that matter to people by day – and that keep them up at night. No single leader, country or institution can do everything. But each of us, in our own way, can do something. We must put people first, raise our game and take international cooperation to the next level. Time is not on our side, but together, as partners, we can meet today’s tests and seize the opportunities of an era of dramatic change.
Wipe Out Polio, Now
Op-Ed By UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Wild viruses and wildfires have two things in common. If neglected, they can spread out of control. If handled properly, they can be stamped out for good. Today, the flame of polio is near extinction — but sparks in three countries threaten to ignite a global blaze. Now is the moment to act.
During the next two weeks, on two continents, two events offer the chance for a breakthrough. First, the leaders of the world’s largest economies — the G8 — congregate at the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David in rural Maryland. A week later, the world’s ministers of health convene in Geneva. Together, they can push to deliver on an epic promise: to liberate humankind from one of the world’s most deadly and debilitating diseases.
The world’s war on polio, declared nearly a quarter of a century ago, was as ambitious an undertaking as the successful campaign to eradicate another great public health menace, smallpox. Slowly but surely, over the years, we have advanced on that goal. Polio today survives in only three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. That’s the good news. The bad: we are in danger of falling victim to our own success.
Here’s why: the world is now populated by a generation which has either never been exposed to polio or has been inadequately vaccinated. When the virus strikes under those conditions, the impact can be devastating. We saw that in the Republic of the Congo in 2010 and elsewhere in Africa when an outbreak killed half of all who were infected. A prompt emergency response by the international community halted that budding epidemic. But the incident gives an idea of the potential consequences of failing to eradicate polio while we have the chance. This year fewer than one hundred people were left paralyzed by this easily preventable disease, almost all in the three countries I have mentioned. Left unchecked, however, UN epidemiologists warn that a renewed outbreak could cripple as many as one million people within the decade, many of them children — the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.
This threat keeps me up at night because I know how easy it is to address. My wife and I have personally immunized toddlers in Asia and Africa, joining tens of millions of government workers, Rotarians, volunteers, political and religious leaders (not to mention parents) who have worked for decades to ensure that every child is protected. Most recently, we visited India, which just two years ago was home to half of all the world’s children with polio. Now, thanks to a concerted drive, we were able to celebrate India’s first polio-free year in history.
Similar efforts are under way in the three remaining polio-endemic countries. President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan each personally oversee their national response. Nigeria has committed funds from its own treasury, and polio eradication in all three countries depends heavily on government resources. But that in itself is not enough. With a determined push, the international community can wipe out polio once and for all. To do so, however, it must organize — and commit the required financial resources.
The United Nations, with its partner Rotary International, is driving the global campaign. Our agencies are working hard to reach all children, including those in refugee camps or swept up by natural disasters and hunger emergencies. It may be difficult but it can be done. Somalia, to name but one example, is afflicted by just about every human and natural hardship known to humankind — but not polio. Its last case was in 2007, thanks in no small part to local women who donned bright yellow smocks and traveled their communities distributing vaccination drops.
The workers on the frontlines have no shortage of dedication. But they do face a financial deficit. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative has only half of the $2 billion it needs to procure vaccines and deploy staff to the last bastions of the disease. Properly equipped, they can win this final battle. If the international community recognizes the stakes and musters the resources, we can win the war against polio — at long last and forever.
Now is the critical moment. If we invest $2 billion now — if we can cover a relatively modest $1 billion shortfall — we can save the world an estimated $40-50 billion in the cost of treatment by 2035, not to mention many lives and many young futures. When the world’s health ministers gather in Geneva later this month, they will declare a global public health emergency and call on the world to response to the threat of a resurgent polio. As the G8 leaders meet at Camp David, they should be aware of what is coming — and recognize this great opportunity to act in the name of the world’s people.
Those meetings will soon be followed by others: the annual gathering of the G20 in Mexico, the Rio+20 conference in Brazil and the European Union summit in Belgium. I hope polio will be on the agenda. I appeal to all leaders, everywhere, to act now to protect future generations. By funding the Global Polio Emergency Action Plan for the next two years, we can make the threat of polio a distant and fading memory.
The Clock is Ticking
Op-Ed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressing key issues to be discussed at the upcoming G20 Summit in Cannes.
As the world population clock ticks past 7 billion, alarm bells are ringing. The gathering force of public protests is the popular expression of an obvious fact: that growing economic uncertainty, market volatility and mounting inequality have reached a point of crisis.
Too many people are living in fear. They are discouraged by uncertainty and angry at their diminished prospects. Around kitchen tables and in public squares, they are asking: who will deliver for my family and my community? In these difficult times, the biggest challenge facing governments is not a deficit of resources; it is a deficit of trust. People are losing faith in leaders and public institutions to do the right thing.
The forthcoming G20 meeting in Cannes takes place against this dramatic backdrop. The leaders of the world’s largest economies have an historic opportunity — and an historic responsibility — to reduce the trust deficit. To do so, they must unite. Amid crisis and uncertainty, they must offer clarity of purpose and bold solutions. The time for haggling over incremental steps is long gone. At the 2009 summit in London, G20 leaders showed courage and creativity in stabilizing the global financial system. We need similarly ambitious leadership today.
We all recognize that budgets are stretched thin. For much of the world, fiscal austerity is the new order of the day. Clearly, the immediate priority in Cannes will be to support the decisions taken in Brussels on the crisis within the eurozone. Yet just as clearly, any effective response to these multiple challenges must be global.
More, it must be coupled with an ambitious long-term social agenda. We cannot afford to cut loose those who are most vulnerable — the poor, the planet, women and young people. Those least responsible are paying the highest price. Asking them to wait while other problems are solved is not only counter-productive but immoral. In Cannes, leaders should agree to a concrete action plan that advances the well-being of all nations and people, not just the wealthiest and most powerful.
For the poor: At last year’s G20 summit in Seoul, leaders recognized a fundamental reality — there can be no sustainable growth without development. Emerging economies are the drivers of the future. In Cannes, leaders must show strong support for the pro-poor, pro-growth agenda embodied in the Millennium Development Goals. We know what works; we must continue to invest in policies and programs that yield outsized gains — in women and children’s health, food and agriculture and gender equity, to name but a few.
For the planet: Just as there can be no sustainable growth without development, there can be no sustainable development without protecting the planet. Our collective health, wealth and well-being depends on how we husband the earth’s “natural capital” — the air, rivers and oceans, soils and forests, its full diversity of flora and fauna.
Next June, twenty years after the original Earth Summit, the United Nations will host a major conference on sustainable development. Rio+20 is an opportunity to define a clear path to a better future — a future of integrated solutions to interrelated problems. That means new initiatives on food and water security. It means advancing on climate change and renewable energy, including innovative means of financing. Above all, it means looking beyond the horizon and thinking strategically about where we must be a decade from now. Three years ago in London, leaders debated how to “stimulate” short-term global growth. In Cannes, we need to focus on boosting smart long-term investment — making the right decisions today to shape the world of tomorrow.
For Women and Youth: Throughout the world, young people and women have taken to the streets. They are demanding their rights and a greater voice in economic and political life. Together, women and young people make up more than two-thirds of the global population. In every sense, they are the world’s next emerging economy. We must listen to them. We must do all we can to meet their needs and create opportunities, from maternal health care to jobs.
Across the broad geography of its membership, the G20 needs to squarely address the crisis of rising inequality. If we fail to do so, the future will come to us with a vengeance. Social alienation and deepening instability will undermine the prospects for peace, security and prosperity for all.
For the leaders in Cannes, this summit is a test. The world is watching. The decisions taken will affect every country and person, directly or indirectly. A failure would be disastrous. With wisdom and foresight, we can use this moment to lay the foundations for a healthy, green and inclusive economic prosperity for everyone. By acting together, now, we can pull back from the brink and make a difference for generations to come. Let us make no mistake: there can be no deferring these hard choices. The clock is ticking.