Children play in a riverbed filled with refuse in Cité Soleil, Haiti’s largest shanty-town. The poverty of those living there is exacerbated by extreme unsanitary conditions and lack of access to basic services. Credit: Caroline Irby/Oxfam
The world needs a dramatic shift in thinking and action to end global poverty.

MDGs: Bold leadership needed to turn tide of poverty

“Leaders must not just reissue empty promises, with their fingers crossed behind their backs.”
Alison Woodhead
Oxfam International’s spokeswoman in New York
Published: 22 September 2008

Ahead of a crucial meeting in New York next week to assess the state of the world’s fight against global poverty, international agency Oxfam called on world leaders to redouble their efforts to fight the impact of rising food and fuel prices – and the attendant economic slowdown from eroding real gains in poverty reduction.

The latest UN estimates suggest that the number of malnourished people worldwide has increased by 75m, to 925m, reversing progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving world hunger by 2015. Higher food prices indirectly affect progress towards many of the other Goals as well, not least because hunger negatively impacts on peoples’ ability to work, stay healthy and for children to go to school.

Alison Woodhead, Oxfam International’s spokeswoman in New York said: “In the face of these new and daunting challenges we need a dramatic shift in political will and ambition. This meeting must deliver concrete plans on how to keep these anti-poverty targets in our sights.”

Around 90 Heads of State and Governments, along with the CEOs of the world’s biggest businesses and hundreds of anti-poverty organizations, are expected to gather in New York on September 25th for the High-Level Event on the Millennium Development Goals, which will be hosted by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Oxfam is calling on them to treat this as an emergency summit and step up their efforts in the fight against poverty.

Alison Woodhead: “Leaders must not just reissue empty promises, with their fingers crossed behind their backs. This is a poverty emergency that requires exactly the same attention and response as the financial crisis grabbing the headlines. Significant progress has been made but much more needs to be done.”

Remarkable progress is possible, even in the poorest countries. In Rwanda the number of children dying from malaria has been cut by two-thirds in the last two years alone. A boy born in Tanzania today is 25% less likely to die by his first birthday than his sister born just four years ago. However on current trends, Oxfam warns that the MDGs will not be achieved. An additional $150bn per year is needed by 2010 to meet all the goals, less than double the amount spent (US$85b) to bail out a single insurance group, AIG.

Woodhead concluded: “Given the turmoil in financial markets, rich countries will be tempted to tighten their belts. But we must do more, not less, if we are to prevent the real danger that progress on the MDGs will be wiped out. Since this summit was announced in January, increased food and oil prices have pushed millions more people into poverty.”

This week, Oxfam and other international agencies launch a major new campaigning action called ‘In My Name’, calling on citizens to hold their leaders accountable for promises made in the year 2000. The initiative brings together dignitaries such as Queen Rania of Jordan, Mary Robinson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and celebrities from all continents including Rahul Bose, will.i.am, Angelique Kidjo, Wyclef Jean, Annie Lennox and Sergio Mendes.