By Haider Rizvi, Republished from CommonDreams.org
UNITED NATIONS – Anti-poverty activists Wednesday organized thousands of meetings and demonstrations across the world to highlight the plight of the downtrodden and the poor.
Organizers said about 39 million people joined the international anti-poverty campaign during the 24-hour period, setting a new Guinness World Record for participation in mass rallies against poverty.
People participated in more than 6,000 rallies in 110 countries in support of the campaign called “Stand Up and Speak Out.” This year, the event coincided with the 20th International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
From workers to peasants to students, those who joined the global campaign against poverty urged governments to fulfill their commitments on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.
The MDGs include a 50-percent reduction in poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three quarters; the promotion of gender equality; and the reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.
“Every day 50,000 people die needlessly as a result of extreme poverty,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement, noting that the gap between rich and poor is getting wider.
Like demonstrators across the world, Ban took world leaders to task for the slow progress towards achieving the MDGs. “(The) record is mixed,” he said. “Many countries are still off track.”
UN experts on development say, worldwide, almost 1 billion people are still living on less than a dollar a day and some 72 million children are not in school.
In Ban’s view, poverty can be eradicated only if governments of both developed and developing countries live up to their promises. He urged poor countries to spend more on health and education and, in the same breath, appealed to wealthy ones to increase the level of their official funding for development.
For his part, UN General Assembly President Srgjian Kerim noted that more than anywhere in the world, it was in sub-Saharan Africa where governments were failing to achieve the MDGs. Kerim said that, as this year marks the midpoint to the goals’ deadline, the world community must recommit its efforts to eradicate poverty.
The president said he would use the current General Assembly session to “build consensus” for urgent actions to achieve the MDGs.
Last year, 23.5 million people took part in the mass rallies to support the MDGs; 3.6 million in Africa; 19 million in Asia; 55,000 in Latin America; 520,000 in the Middle East; and 900,000 in Europe.
“By standing up last year, millions around the world demonstrated their frustration with the lack of real progress in poverty eradication,” said Salil Shetty of the United Nations Millennium Campaign before the event. “This year, millions more are joining this growing global movement of people who refuse to stay silent in the face of poverty or broken promises to end it.”
For this event, the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) and the UN Millennium Campaign worked with large numbers of national and local partners — from schools and universities to local community groups and women’s groups, choirs, and sporting clubs to faith groups, trade unions, and corporations.
The events planned were meant to be entertaining and engaging, while making a strong impression on national and regional politicians and governments, as well as state and global institutions. Millions of people also joined the campaign in cyber space, posting blogs, wikis, videos, and pictures on various online communities such as Facebook, MySpace, and Bebo.
In Italy, Microsoft created a dedicated micro-site for the action, and in many poor countries — especially in Africa — mobile phone technology enabled groups to pre-register their activities online view videos of “Stand Ups” in other countries.
In Rwanda youth groups organized a “Stand Up” soccer tournament with 20 primary schools. A youth network in Ghana appointed “Stand Up” ambassadors to lead events all over the country.
In Bangladesh an umbrella movement of youth groups mobilized 10,000 young people to block a busy crossroads with a human chain, and in India, a local organization planned a march of 20,000 Dalits (also known as “untouchables”), focusing on land rights and the achievement of the MDGs for Dalits in the State of Madhya Pradesh.
Similar events also took place all over Europe and North and South America. In Germany the Euro 2008 Qualifier soccer game against the Czech Republic saw fans starting the match with a massive “Stand Up” moment. In The Hague the national anti-poverty campaign displayed 200 life-size avatars representing members of the public from across The Netherlands.
In London trade union representatives, students, and the UN Deputy Secretary-General used a white band — the symbol of the global anti-poverty campaign — to call for renewed commitments on more and better aid, debt cancellation, trade justice, gender equality and public accountability.
Religious leaders in many parts of the world also joined in.
During the campaign, many activists highlighted the link between gender inequalities and poverty because women constitute the majority of the world’s poor, largely as a result of their unequal opportunities and access to resources, discriminatory laws, and unequal distribution of household resources.