If it was not for the work of charities and select sections of the media, I worry that the UN Millennium Development Goals summit and its purpose would have passed many people by.
There has been some progress on the eight MDGs, but it is, at best, uneven and slow. For example, Eastern Asia has surpassed its target already for halving the proportion of people, between 1990 and 2015, whose income is less than $1 a day. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia it is lagging massively behind.
Many charities have watched development at the current summit with a scrupulous eye. Others have actively engaged with events in New York. In a refreshingly light-hearted approach to what is, unmistakably a depressing subject, Save the Children handed out chocolate bars at the summit with the words “World Leaders, Run don’t walk: stop children dying”. The organisation has provided hundreds of tweets per day on Twitter about the summit, ensuring its coverage and use of the #MDG hashtag has been relentless. With more than 95,000 followers, this is promotion on a global scale.
Amnesty International also produced a startling contrast to the bright lights of capitalism in Times Square with its grimly entitled “maternal death clock“. Situated streets away from the UN summit, the giant digital clock counts the number of times a woman dies giving birth – 1 every 90 seconds – in direct reference to the fifth MDG, which is behind target in every region of the world.
Sarah Brown was a speaker at the summit. In an interview with The Guardian, she highlighted the work of the White Ribbon Alliance in promoting maternal death rate awareness. She said: “When I became global patron of the White Ribbon Alliance nearly three years ago, it was clear that even the most well-informed women in this country weren’t fully aware of the problem. But once they knew, they were quickly outraged – and wanted to help.”
And this is exactly where the work of charities comes in. While the MDG summit may seem remote and inaccessible to many, explaining it and promoting its purpose is vital to securing funds for charity groups and winning hearts. Surely it’s a case of leading by example? If people see that the governments of the developed world are sticking to their word, then the public will follow suit. However, without the lasting support of both, sadly, many of the MDGs look even less achievable than they do now, five years away from the target date.