7 July 2005

Millennium Development Goals Have Unprecedented Political Support, Secretary-General Says at London Event

NEW YORK, 6 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of today’s address by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the St. Paul’s Cathedral event on the Millennium Development Goals, in London:

Let me say -- as Secretary-General of the United Nations and as a Ghanaian and an African -- that being here in London at this time is a deeply moving experience.  To see Government and citizens, civil society and business, the media and the Make Poverty History campaigners, all working with the Millennium Campaign and the United Nations -- and all focusing on a common cause -- that's something you do not often see in a lifetime.

This summer, you have truly demonstrated that you are an Olympic city in more ways than one.

If it is bliss at such times to be alive, to be here in St. Paul's tonight is very heaven.  With the help of St. Paul's Institute, we have all been brought together, under God, under one roof and under the banner of the white band against poverty.  If that isn't a message loud and clear enough to be heard in the highest places, I don't know what is.

Let me say a special thank you to my friend Gordon Brown for being here.  Gordon, you and Prime Minister Blair are two of the great global leaders of our time, because you have put the case for development firmly on the agenda of the developed world.  You are a source of innovation and ideas for ways we can actually make things happen, on issues from debt relief to the genuine scaling up of development assistance.

All of you are here because, like me, you know that this is a make-or-break moment for the Millennium Development Goals -- and for the world's poor.  You know that how we fare for the next 10 years hinges on decisions that must be taken within the next days and weeks.

Why are the Millennium Development Goals different from other bold pledges that became broken promises over the past 50 years?  For four reasons.

First, rich countries have accepted for the first time their share of responsibility to support the efforts of poor countries, through more and better aid, debt cancellation and fairer trade.

And developing countries have accepted their share, through improved governance and better use of resources.

Second, the Goals are people-centred, time-bound and measurable.

A classic complaint about development aid is that resources tend to be wasted by corruption and mismanagement, and that we have no way to track progress and ensure accountability.  Now, we have a set of clear, measurable indicators, focused on basic human needs.  We have clear benchmarks of progress -- or the lack of it -- both globally and on a country-by-country basis.  We have a set of simple but powerful objectives that every man and woman in the street, from London to Luanda to Lucknow, can easily support and understand.

Third, the Millennium Development Goals have unprecedented political support.

The eight Goals were drawn from the Millennium Declaration, which was endorsed by all Member States of the United Nations five years ago.  Never before have such concrete goals been formally endorsed by rich and poor countries alike.  Never before have the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and all the other principal arms of the international system come together behind the same set of development objectives -- and stood ready to be held accountable for them.

Fourth -- and most important -- the Millennium Development Goals are achievable.

They are certainly challenging, but they are also technically feasible.  They are not just wishful thinking.

Take the first Goal -- that of reducing extreme poverty by half.  Over the past 15 years, there has been a massive, unprecedented reduction in poverty, led by Asia.  The number of people living in extreme poverty on that continent has been cut by more than a quarter of a billion since 1990.

Even in Africa, where progress has been slowest, a number of countries have sustained growth rates that are enough to achieve several of the Goals by 2015, when combined with social and governance reform, as well as targeted expenditures on health and education.

Yet, the big picture is uneven at best.  The very poorest are getting poorer in sub-Saharan Africa.  Overall, Africa is falling seriously short on most of the Goals, with continuing food insecurity, disturbingly high child and maternal mortality, growing numbers of people living in slums and an overall rise of extreme poverty.

And nearly 700 million people in Asia still live on less than a dollar a day -- nearly two thirds of the world's poorest people. In all, an estimated 1 billion people -- one in five people in the developing world -- still live below the extreme poverty line.

Among the different Goals themselves, we also have a mixed scorecard.  There have been major advances in reducing hunger, improving access to drinking water and sending more children to primary school.

But mothers continue to die needlessly in childbirth throughout the developing world.  HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria continue to spread and to kill.  Gender equality remains no more than a dream for women in many countries.  Damage to the environment is a growing threat to people’s food and water supplies, to their livelihoods and homes.

How can anyone among us sit back, knowing this to be the case?  There is no autopilot, no magic of the marketplace, no rising tide in the global economy that will lift all boats.  If current trends persist, some of the poorest countries will not be able to meet many -- or perhaps any -- of the Goals by 2015.  Considering how far we have come, such a failure would be a tragic missed opportunity.

That is why, in 2005, the concept of a global partnership between rich and poor countries -- the eighth Goal -- needs to become a reality.  Let me recall the terms of that historic compact.

Each developing country has a duty to its people to take charge of its own development.  That means building better governance and fighting corruption.  It means devising policies and investments that strengthen the economy.  It means making real resources available to fund the fight against poverty.

If they do that, developed countries, on their side, must ensure full support.  That means providing more and better-quality development assistance.  It means making the trading system one that truly supports development.  It means offering wider and deeper debt relief.

Let us remember that two thirds of the world's poor live in rural areas and depend on agriculture.  That means we have to end agricultural subsidies in rich countries to give farmers in the developing world a fairer deal.  And we have to end trade and non-trade barriers that stifle progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

Developing countries are not just sitting back and waiting. As we can see in initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, many of them are pressing ahead with social, political and economic reforms.  These are underpinned by a real commitment to poverty reduction, democracy, human rights and good governance.  And they are underpinned by citizen-led campaigns which -- like Make Poverty History here in the UK -- are holding Governments to account.

The European Union has set a powerful example by agreeing on a substantial increase in official development assistance over the next decade.  I especially welcome the EU timetable for reaching, by 2015, the agreed target of spending 0.7 per cent of income on aid.  Such a timetable is crucial to meeting the Goals.

And we have seen encouraging progress on debt relief with the decision taken last month by the finance ministers of the Group of Eight.  For too long, some of the world's poorest countries had been obliged to write off their people’s lives in order to service their debt.  Now, it is the debt that will be written off.

Again, let me pay tribute to the United Kingdom for its leadership, particularly in taking bold moves to untie aid, and pushing for more effective development assistance among all donors.

Fifty years ago, I was growing up in Ghana at a time when the struggle for independence was at its peak. I was able to witness the success of that endeavour; to see peaceful transition take place; to see my countrymen take charge of their own destiny.  I grew up with a feeling that change is possible.  I have that feeling again today.

We will have time to reach the Goals -- worldwide and in most, or even all, individual countries -- but only if we break with business as usual.

We cannot win overnight.  Success will require sustained action across the entire decade between now and the deadline.  It takes time to train the teachers, nurses and engineers; to build the roads, schools and hospitals; to grow the small and large businesses able to create the jobs and income needed.  So we must start now.

And we must more than double global development assistance over the next few years.  Nothing less will help to achieve the Goals.

As of this summer, we have entered the most crucial phase of the 2005 process -- the one in which Governments have to decide on the way forward:  this week at Gleneagles; in September at the World Summit in New York –- expected to be the largest gathering of world leaders in history; and in December at the trade negotiations in Hong Kong, where the world will seek to fulfil the Doha Development Agenda.

That is why the mass mobilization we are seeing now is so important -- all of you gathered here tonight; the Live 8 concerts organized in so many cities; and the events being held by the Global Call to Action against Poverty in so many other places around the world.

Yesterday, I flew in from the African Union summit in Libya.  And I can tell you that in Africa, too, there is a real grass-roots movement in support of the Millennium Development Goals.

That movement is matched by commitment from a range of African Governments who are determined to hold up their end of the Millennium partnership.

Clearly, the Millennium Development Goals have galvanized unprecedented efforts.  And we now have an action plan to achieve them, thanks to a great deal of thinking that has taken place over the past few years, such as the work done by the Commission for Africa, the United Nations and many others.

There are also encouraging signs that the critical ingredient -- political will -- is emerging.

The next few days and weeks will put that to the test.

In many ways, the task this year will be even tougher than it was five years ago, when the Millennium Development Goals were adopted.  Instead of just setting targets, this time leaders must decide on concrete steps to achieve them.  They must agree on a plan to reach the Goals.

The agenda for the New York summit is even larger than that.  It is based on the understanding that development, security and human rights are not only ends in themselves -- they reinforce each other, and depend on each other.  In our interconnected world, the human family will not enjoy development without security, it will not enjoy security without development, and it will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.  To act on that understanding, we also need to reinvigorate the United Nations itself.

The issues on the table are of vital importance to every human being on the planet.  If the Summit in September takes decisions that help strengthen our collective security; if we make real progress in our fight against poverty, disease and illiteracy; if the world provides the means to reach all the Millennium Development Goals; if Governments recognize the centrality of human rights, and reform the United Nations to ensure it is up to the job it has to do  -- then all the world's people will benefit.

We have a once-in-a-generation chance to bring about historic, fundamental change.  But it will depend on the will of Governments, and on the commitment of groups and individuals such as you.

So between now and September, please keep making your voices heard loud and clear enough to lift the sky.  And keep raising your voices after that, to hold Governments to their promises, and to help translate those promises into action.

Let history not say about our age that we were those who were rich in means but poor in will.  Let it say that we who were strong in love, as Wordsworth put it, were the ones who really did make poverty history.

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