Today is Universal Children’s Day – established by the UN to promote the welfare of the children of the world. While the ‘generic’ day is celebrated on 20 November, many countries have special Children’s Day’s celebrated throughout the year.
Children are key to all the strategies and activities of the UN – the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), while aimed at benefiting all of humankind, are primarily focused on children. As UNICEF notes, “six of the eight goals relate directly to children and meeting the last two will also make critical improvements in their lives.”
From an adult point of view, another important benefit of this day is that it reminds us of the innocence and wonder of being young. It reminds us that we don’t always have to over-complicate matters; that sometimes the best strategy is to approach matters afresh, with curiosity and without prejudice, the way children do by default.
This applies in life, as in the sciences. To quote physicist Frederick Seitz: “A good scientist is a person in whom the childhood quality of perennial curiosity lingers on. Once he gets an answer, he has other questions.” Marie Curie shared this sentiment when she said: “I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale.”
So, on this day, consider the children – may their best interest guide your actions, and may their example inform your ways. Happy Universal Children’s Day!
Today the United Nations celebrate two special observances – World Development Information Day and UN Day. Both of these focus in some sense on the work done by the UN since it’s establishment in 1945, with World Development Information Day focusing specifically on the sharing of development information among UN member states.
Given the dire conditions millions of people are living in, and the massive challenges facing the world in terms of getting even close to realising the Millennium Development Goals of 2015, the UN has a critical role to play around coordination of activities and initiatives across the globe and among its members.
The UN is active on many fronts – peace, development, human rights, the environment and the empowerment of women and children. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “The United Nations is not just a meeting place for diplomats. The United Nations is a peacekeeper disarming fighters, a health worker distributing medicine, a relief team aiding refugees, a human rights expert helping deliver justice.”
In pursuing these initiatives, the UN depends on countless groups and organisations – NGOs, researchers, philanthropists, champions from the business world, religious leaders and academics. Beyond these there’s the contribution everyday citizens can make – individually, we may not be able to achieve the stretching targets set forth to better the world, but if actions are coordinated and everyone pulls in the same direction, miracles are possible.
The day dates back to 1987, when more than a hundred thousand people gathered in Trocadéro in Paris (where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948), to honour and acknowledge the millions of people around the world who are victims of extreme poverty. At this event, extreme poverty (currently defined as living on less than US$1.25 per day) was proclaimed a basic violation of human rights, and the urgent need to combat this violation was reaffirmed. Through the establishment of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the UN formalised the commitments of the 1987 gathering, urging governmental and civil organisations to take action in addressing the problems of extreme poverty.
Think about it for a minute – US$1.25 a day. Or US$37.50 a month… Convert that to your local currency, and imagine that being the grand total amount of money you have to live on. Not just for basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, heat and sanitation, but for all your living expenses including medical care, education and transport.
That is not poverty – it is extreme poverty. The number is incomprehensibly small.
And now think about this: 920 million people. That is the amount of people that will still live under the international poverty line of $1.25 per day in 2015 in the best case scenario if the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations is reached. In 1990 that number was almost 2 billion, and the stretching target set by the UN MDGs is to halve the 1990 extreme poverty rate by 2015.
At the moment, there’s still significantly more than 1 billion people living in extreme poverty. The number is incomprehensibly large.
And despite a general positive trend in the eradication of poverty, there are some severe setbacks that can derail the progress towards reaching the above goals. In 2010 alone, for example, it is estimated that the global economic crisis pushed an additional 64 million people into extreme poverty.
At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in June of this year, leaders from around the world declared that poverty eradication is “the greatest global challenge facing the world today.”
The UN Fact Sheet on poverty eradication details some very positive programmes that have worked well in different regions of the world – subsidy programmes in Malawi and Ghana, investments in agricultural research in Vietnam, innovative finance schemes in Nigeria and Bangladesh, employment programmes in Argentina. In addition to these, the UN is currently coordinating many additional initiatives across the world focused on agriculture, rural employment, food provision, local cooperatives and more.
While the global eradication of poverty feels like one of those vague, hazy ideals that we fully agree is important, but really have no idea what to do about as individuals, there are things we can do. Simply sharing the message and creating awareness among your peers of the various initiatives that are currently running to address the problem, can already help. The UN “End Poverty 2015 – we are the generation that can end poverty” awareness campaign makes it easy to identify and share specific messages related to the challenges that remain in the fight against poverty.
Go on – go to “#endpoverty”, find those initiatives that are close to your heart, educate yourself about them and start sharing with a simple click of a button. Knowledge is power, and sharing that knowledge is half the battle won.