Time to take notice: International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

Around the world today, thousands are gathering to put an end to poverty. Gareth Chadwick reports
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Indy Politics

When over 100,000 people gathered in Paris 20 years ago today to protest against world poverty, little did they realise that during the next two decades their demonstration would become a global day of action.

The symbolic location for that Parisian outburst was the Trocadero, site of the signature of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The date, 17 October, was officially adopted by the UN as its International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, an annual reminder honouring victims of extreme poverty, violence and hunger all over the world.

The aim is to use a global day of action as a way of pressurising governments and global leaders to eradicate global poverty, hunger and violence, and to highlight the plight of the millions of people worldwide suffering from poverty.

Organised by Global Call to action Against Poverty (GCAP), a worldwide alliance of over 100 national coalitions comprising charities, social movements, faith groups, trade unions, community groups, youth organisations and individuals, what has become popularly known as World Poverty Day will involve demonstrations, marches and other events in scores of countries across the world, all taking place under the slogan "stand up and speak out against poverty and inequality".

According to UN figures, more than a billion people around the world exist in a state of abject poverty and gross inequality, around 70 per cent of them women. Depressingly, this figure has actually increased by around 200,000 over the past 10 years, despite the fact that the world in general is richer. The majority of those in poverty are in the developing world, particularly Africa, but there are also significant numbers in South and Central Asia and Latin America.

It doesn't have to be this way. In theory, there are enough resources, knowledge and technology to eradicate poverty. Enough food is produced to feed the global population twice over. Yet global hunger persists and over 1.4 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water.

The goal of today's activities is to focus attention on the plight of the world's poor, to campaign for their rights to livelihoods, food, water and basic services. It is about pushing harder to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of halving world poverty by 2015, which UN members signed up to 2000, and about making sure that national governments honour the promises they made in 2005 during the Make Poverty History campaign and G8 summit in Scotland.

It is not, however, unlike some prominent hunger campaigns of the past, about food parcels and hand-outs. Explains Richard Miller, executive director of ActionAid UK, an international charity which is involved in poverty projects around the world, long term eradication of poverty can be achieved only through investment and aid in more fundamental areas, such as education, health, and infrastructure, some of which we profile in these pages.

"It's certainly not about sending out food parcels. Most countries can produce sufficient food themselves, if they are given support and tools to do so. It is also critical that trade rules are more just so that countries can develop their own economies. Education and healthcare are seen as the great enablers. With better education and better healthcare, particularly among girls, development will follow," says Miller.

ActionAid's focus is on community-based projects directed towards solving specific local issues. It works with local partners to draw upon their knowledge and experience, seeking to help communities work their own way out of poverty, rather than imposing well-meaning but potentially inappropriate solutions.

Events to mark World Poverty Day include a world record attempt to get people all around the world to stand up at the same moment against poverty. The attempt is just one of thousands of events being planned in the 24-hour period from 9pm GMT on 16 October to 9pm GMT on 17 October. Others include a series of rallies in three Afghan cities to demand greater transparency in how foreign aid is spent in the country. A Poverty Requiem will take place in more than 25 countries, including Kenya, the US, Senegal and The Netherlands.

In Pakistan, the biggest banner ever made against poverty will be unfurled for over 10km along river banks, ending in front of government buildings in Lahore. Some 25 other giant banners will be unfurled in countries including Australia and Sri Lanka.

In Africa, mass mobilisation plans include a rally for rural workers in Malawi, a concert and a nationwide "schools stand-up" in Uganda, 15 performances of the Poverty Requiem in towns and cities across the continent, political delegations in Somalia and Ghana, as well as a predicted million-person stand-up across Kenya.

On the other side of the world, 40,000 Mexican school children are hoping to take part in street rally, while in Canada there will be a protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, to mark the first day of Parliament.

It is this global participation, says ActionAid's Miller, that is the key to making a difference. "In Britain, we tend to hear most about UK actions that are helping to solve world poverty. What GCAP and World Poverty Day highlights is that if we really want to make progress, then it needs to be a global, not national, movement.

"Eradicating poverty is not pie-in-the-sky. It is a very achievable goal. The Millennium Development Goals are regarded as attainable targets. The evidence is that if we put our minds to it, if there is the political will to ensure all children go to school, that there is basic healthcare and clean water, then we can begin to reduce the huge and growing gulf between the world's rich and the poor," says Miller.

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