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Make poverty history at Summit

Grace Miedema, Chaplain | Interrobang | Opinion | September 19th, 2005



Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
The UN Millennium Summit last week was the largest ever gathering of its kind. It is five years on from the Millennium Summit in the year 2000, during which 189 leaders pledged to achieve the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at halving extreme poverty by 2015. This past week, leaders were to assess their progress towards achieving the Goals.


What are the United Nations Millenium Development Goals?

The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 — form a blueprint agreed to by all the world's countries and all the world's leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world's poorest.

Goal 1. Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day. Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

Goal 2. Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling.

Goal 3. Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2115.

Goal 4. Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under age five.

Goal 5 Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio.

Goal 6. Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS. Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

Goal 7. Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse loss of environmental resources. Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water. Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020.

Goal 8. Develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory, includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction, both nationally and internationally.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan states, “We will have time to reach the Millennium Development 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.”

There have been ‘White band' week activities across the country in provincial capitals and at about 25 universities. (You can purchase your own white band at the Chaplain Centre D2030 for only $2.) Europe and Asia are holding parties against poverty as well as prayer vigils and fasts in solidarity with starving children. Bit will it make a difference? On the one hand, I say, “Go for it” and on the other I think, “What a tempest in a teapot - who gives a rip if I fast for a few days?” But I firmly believe that we do need to speak up on behalf of the poor in our neighbourhoods and across the planet. The simplest thing we can do and need to do is ask, encourage, demand, and keep badgering our government to keep the promises it has made. We have pledged to give 0.7 per cent of our GNI (Gross National Income) as foreign aid; at present we give less than 0.3 per cent to the poor of this world. Those are very minimal alms or tithes by anyone's standards. But there are ways to make a difference;

Sign on to the makepovertyhistory.ca campaign. With a simple email you can let our Prime Minister and your MP know that Canada can take action.

On the issue of child poverty, Canada can take action buy raising the annual Canada Child Tax Benefit (or equivalent benefit) to $4,900 per child and ensuring all low-income children receive full benefit of this program.

The Make Poverty history website says that we can, “Involve groups where poverty is predominant, such as Aboriginal People, women, minorities and youth in the design and implementation of a domestic poverty reduction strategy.”

If we're going to ask the government to involve groups where poverty is predominant, as stated in the last point, then if you are an Aboriginal person, a woman, young, or a minority your voice needs to be heard. We should stand together and give our input to design and implement poverty reduction strategies right here. I keep wondering why people need to make the choice between welfare or OSAP, and how they manage the stress of feeding the kids while they wait for the OSAP to come through. There needs to be a better way. Publicly funded childcare is not the number one choice for our children, but it needs to be an option, and it needs to be an option closer to this school. Why won't it work and where is the political will to make it happen? Maybe the people who need it might have some good ideas on how to design and implement the program.

Kofi Annan reminds us it takes time to train teachers, nurses, and engineers, and it takes time to build roads and businesses. As you decide on research and design projects, gain accounting skills and talents in nursing and broadcasting, consider how your education can be used to make the planet a better environment for the poor as well as the rich. Think of the radio that runs on a wind-up spring, or the hospital incubator drawing on solar power, or the development of the simple dehydration solution for diarrhea victims. You, with your education, can make a difference.

To make poverty history is a complex goal. Some say it can be accomplished in this generation. In the Bible, Jesus said, “The poor will be with you always.” That doesn't mean give up now because there is no end; instead it is recognition that the problem is very complex and not easily conquered. I grew up below the poverty line, but didn't know it. There are other ways of being rich. But that doesn't take away the pain of being poor and our responsibility to do something about it. Someone once said, “If you can see the end to the problem you haven't picked a big enough problem.” In the race between the tortoise and the hare, no sane person would bet on the hare, but you know the rest of the story.

To view the minutes from the Summit +5 go to www.un.org.

Grace Miedema is a Christian Reform Chaplain at Fanshawe. Contact her at gmiedema@fanshwec.ca or in the Chaplain Centre in D2030.
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