Anti-Poverty Groups Sound Off Ahead of High-Level MDG Summit

World leaders will gather over the next few days in New York for a U.N. summit to accelerate progress toward the Millennium Development Goals.

Starting Monday, the 150 world leaders at the high-level MDG2010 Summit will assess progress toward the series of targets that range from cutting child and maternal mortality to halving the number of people who go hungry, and recommit to the pledges they made a decade ago.

Also present will be representatives from the private sector and civil society such as Abbé Ambroise Tine, secretary general of Caritas Senegal, who will be representing Caritas Internationalis, the wider confederation of 165 national Catholic charities.

"Our generation is the first with the knowledge and resources to help millions of people escape from poverty," says Tine. "All we need is the political will from world leaders to see through the promises their governments are already committed to. That political will must take the form of further debt cancellation, fair international trade rules and more aid, better spent."

In a report earlier this year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that a number of countries have achieved "major successes" in pursuing the eight goals through combating extreme poverty and hunger, improving school enrollment and child health, expanding access to clean water and access to HIV treatment and controlling malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases.

"This has happened in some of the poorest countries, demonstrating that the Millennium Development Goals are indeed achievable with the right policies, adequate levels of investment, and international support," he reported.

But Ban also noted that the progress has been uneven and, without additional efforts, several of the MDGs are likely to be missed in many countries.

"The MDGs are achievable," say summit organizers, "but there is clearly an urgent need to address challenges, acknowledge failures and come together to overcome the obstacles to their achievement."

"This will require the embrace of pioneering ideas and political will on the part of governments and their development partners," they add.

In the days leading up to the summit, a number of groups have come up with suggestions on how to fulfill the MDGs by 2015 as agreed by the 189 U.N. member states in 2000.

Caritas, for example, is urging the special U.N. anti-poverty meeting to put justice for the poor at the heart of its development plans.

"It is not simply a question of more money," says Tine. "We need political leaders to regard all people as human beings whose dignity, freedom and rights to a better living conditions are deemed sacred and inviolable. We need a new kind of MDG. We need Millennium Development Governments to overcome poverty on all continents."

U.K.-based Christian Aid, meanwhile, has called for several reforms to the current MDG process, including making rich countries more accountable for their part in the achievement of the Goals and ensuring that much wider progress is made towards equality between women and men.

"The MDGs should also be amended to reflect improvements in our understanding of climate change and the urgency of tackling it," the anti-poverty organization states.

"Where the [Millennium] Declaration recognizes that poverty is complex and based on a lack of power, the MDG framework is weakened by focusing on needs rather than causes," adds Alex Cobham, Christian Aid's chief policy adviser and the author of the report, Poverty Over: We're All In This Together.

According to organizers of this week's summit, world leaders are expected to undertake a comprehensive review of successes, best practices and lessons learned, obstacles and gaps, challenges and opportunities, "leading to concrete strategies for action."

As decided nearly a decade ago, the MDGs include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing global partnership for development.

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