Another year, another summit. Or so it feels. But the one kicking off this week in New York – the UN High-Level Plenary on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – marks ten years since the advent of one of the greatest promises ever made.
That promise, made by over 180 Heads of State in the Millennium Declaration, was to halve extreme poverty by 2015, and to set a series of targets including cutting by two-thirds the number of child deaths, and reducing by half the proportion of people without access to clean water and basic sanitation.
That promise has galvanised action and delivered life-saving progress, but ultimately has not been kept. The number of people suffering hunger, for example, is actually growing as a result of the global food crisis, while the target on access to sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa is so off-track it will not be met on current trends until the 23rd Century.
Hence another summit. Heads of State are reconvening to look at what has been achieved since their first declaration, and what needs to be done with just five years left.
Sceptics predict more hot air and pieces of paper that will mean nothing to someone lacking a clean water source. And overall, they might be right. A lot of summits come and go with warm words and empty hands.
But by dragging leaders, occasionally kicking and screaming, to take notice of this issue, and by shining a light on the dishonour a number have shown to the world’s poorest communities, we’re at least provided a platform to hold them to account and give their consciences a nudge.
And for those wiser leaders taking it more seriously, it’s a platform to shine, to make commitments they may actually keep, and to show to the world that with the right will, and the right policies, poverty can be defeated.
All sort of things will be happening this week, and you can follow updates on this blog every day – both about the formal happenings in the UN Headquarters, and the weird and wonderful things happening around it.