ANNE KELLY writes from New York

Anne Kelly, IBVM NGO Representative at the United NationsAnne Kelly, IBVM NGO Representative at the United NationsThe UN buildings and adjacent neighbourhood have been in a state of siege this week, as 140 heads of state have arrived to take part in the Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and engage in debates in the General Assembly, that mark the start of the new academic and working year in this part of the world. Imagine an area of the inner city, six blocks by two, shut down for over a week to all traffic except police vehicles and black stretch limousines driving VIPs to and from the UN, while snipers hold position on the rooftops. I have never seen so many guns on the street in broad daylight!

And so duly armed with my normal UN pass, special passes and several other forms of ID, I negotiated the numerous security check points this week to attend some very interesting presentations on the MDGs. Ten years ago, world leaders promised to take serious steps to improve the lives of the poor, setting eight specific development targets to be met by 2015. These included reducing by half the number of people living on less than $1 a day, universal primary education, gender equity and a significant reduction in maternal and child deaths and environmental sustainability. (For further details, follow this link:

United NationsUnited NationsEarly this week Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, made an impassioned plea to world leaders to take their promises more seriously, because it’s evident that very few of the MDG goals are likely to be achieved. In fact the number of hungry people in the world today has actually increased from 821 million in 1990 to 963 million, while 1.4 billion people are now classified as living in “extreme poverty”. Moreover the income gap between rich and poor within countries is more sharply defined than ever before.

On the positive side, across the globe there has been an improvement in access to primary education, access to clean water and better control of some diseases. Nevertheless the rate of maternal deaths is higher than ever with one death every 90 seconds, gender inequity remains alarmingly high and more than 40% of the world’s population (2.6 billion) don’t have toilets. To put it another way, unclean water, coupled with lack of basic sanitation, kills at least 1.6 million children under the age of five each year, which is eight times the number of people who died in the Asian tsunami of 2004. Grim statistics indeed.

Peace gun in front of UNPeace gun in front of UNIt seems that the last three years of global economic and financial crises have weakened rather than strengthened the political will of world leaders to change the way the global economy operates, providing an excuse for inaction in regard to the MDGs. As only a few countries have honoured their promise of 0.7% GDP for overseas development aid, it’s obvious that new mechanisms are needed. Several of the workshops that I have attended recently explored alternative ways of financing the MDG pledges. Two of the suggestions on the table at present are a tax on international transactions (also called a Robin Hood tax) and a tax on currency exchanges. The presidents of Spain and France both came out in support of these proposals this week . It will be interesting to see who else steps forward to make a similar stand.

It has been said that never in the world’s history have we had such capacity to address the issues of poverty and injustice that abound, but do we have the desire and determination to do so?