UN leadership seeks recommitment to MDGs

Parts of New York City September 25 were more awash than usual with diplomats, business leaders, royalty, advocates young and old, Episcopalians and Anglicans as the United Nations convened a day-long “high-level event” aimed at gaining a recommitment from the world’s leaders to the Millennium Development Goals.

Meanwhile, in fulfillment of the recent Lambeth Conference’s call, the Episcopal Church designated Sept. 25 as a day of prayer, fasting and witness.

Halfway between the birth of the MDGs in 2000 and their target for achievement in 2015, the General Assembly session, with its surrounding activities, was meant to “inject new energy into the global partnership for development,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea told the assembly. “We are the first generation to possess the resources, knowledge and skills to eliminate poverty. Experience shows that where there is strong political resolve, we see progress.”

Ban asked the assembly to agree to his proposal for what he called “a formal summit” in 2010 to take stock again of MDG achievements and announce a plan for the last five years before the target date.

The day began with nearly 90 minutes of speeches to the United Nations’ General Assembly from UN officials, five heads of state, the head of the European Commission, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Elaben Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association. The rest of the day included two series of roundtable discussions on the MDGs, interspersed with news conferences and other events.

Ban set the stage for the day when he said that while the world has “many successes on which to build” to achieve the MDGs by 2015, “we are not moving quickly enough.”

Ban told the delegates that “poor people around the world look to their governments and to the United Nations for help and solidarity.”

Few member countries have lived up to the commitments that they made in 2002 to allocate 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product to development, said UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann.

“For every dollar that the developed countries spend on international assistance, they invest $10 in military budgets,” said d’Escoto, a Nicaraguan Maryknoll Missionary priest who is also senior advisor on foreign affairs to Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown echoed concern about the effect the world financial crisis might have on achievement of the development goals.

“Some say this time of financial turbulence is the time to put our ambitions on hold, to cut back or postpone the dream of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, but this would be the worst time to turn back,” he told the General Assembly.

Brown told the General Assembly that the “greatest enemy” of achieving the MDGs “is not war or inequality or any single ideology or a financial crisis; it is too much indifference.” He included the UN in that indictment, saying that its credibility was on trial.

Brown reiterated three challenges he made July 24 at the conclusion of the Lambeth Conference of bishops’ Walk of Witness in London and added a fourth. In addition to the challenges of recruiting and training one million health workers worldwide to save the lives of women and children, getting 24 million more children into school by 2010, and preventing starvation in the Horn of Africa by giving Africa the ability to feed itself and export food, Brown called for the end of all malaria deaths by 2015, by ensuring that everyone has a bed net by 2010 and funding research for a vaccine.

Among the other speakers at the opening plenary were Jakaya Kikwete, president of the United Republic of Tanzania and chair of the African Union; Wen Jiabao, premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China; Sheik Hamad Bin Jabr Al-Thani, prime minister and minister of foreign affairs in the State of Qatar; Winston Brown Spencer, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda and chair of the Group of 77; and Jose Manuel Barroso; president of the European Commission.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in the midst of an election campaign, did not attend the event.

At midday September 25, about 35 members and friends of the Episcopal Church marched in a “walk of prayerful witness” to support the MDGs, from the church’s headquarters several blocks to the UN.

The day before the events at the UN, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams released a video message in which he backed calls for a renewal of the pledges made by the international community in 2000, and spoke of the need for the members of the Anglican Communion to work in harmony with governments and non-governmental organizations around the world in order to achieve the MDGs by 2015.

A transcript of Williams’ message is available here.

Later, there was a “rally” and “teach-in” on the steps of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, followed by a “Service of Recommitment and Witness of the Achievement of the MDGs.” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori officiated and Sentamu preached.

The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, Episcopal Life Media correspondent for Episcopal Church governance, structure, and trends, and Solange De Santis, Episcopal Life Media editor, contributed to this story.

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