“Our governments are locked into the chains of the status quo” so said Jeff Sachs this week at the Rio plus 20 summit, “What we need are pioneers who don’t ask for permission.”
As the Rio+20 Summit comes to a close there is a mixture of sentiments in the air, none of which is excitement. Veteran policy makers at the summit tell me that ‘if everyone leaves the negotiation table unhappy, you have probably done something right.’ At a meeting of this size, the largest UN gathering ever, bold declarative commitments on behalf of our collective future were hard to come by.
The conference is largely about natural capital, how we divvy up resources like fisheries and forests, and negotiating around rights to use those resources. What we really need is a return to old virtues and bold declarative leadership. We have abandoned ourselves to markets and to politicians, and I am struck by a lack of vision.
I am in Rio because I was invited to participate in a high-level event on accelerating progress in the Millennium Development Goals (the agreed upon global platform to end extreme poverty around the World) through Youth Innovation. I was absolutely humbled by the visionaries in the room, many personal heroes: Marina Silva, Jeff Sachs, Ted Turner, Mohammed Yunus, and the Secretary General. What I saw in their stance was that each led first with bold actions in their respective fields- their collective actions will leave an enduring legacy on the world.
“Mohammed Yunus did not take the textbook of microfinance off the shelf, he wrote the textbook! But even before he wrote the textbook he did it so it wasn’t theory, it was practice, it was proved, it was demonstrated.” Sachs continued, “Our politicians are highly refined followers, that is their job in a democracy – they listen closely – they wonder what will get votes… okay that is the way it works, we have to be the one to tell them what gets votes!”
Later that day in response to the conference in general, a group of 200 gathered in protest, handed in their access badges and walked out chanting “the future we want is not found here!” It was the most declarative statement I had heard thus far, but I also realized that these valuable voices had just left the room.
The acute tension at Rio+20 is how do we break the quagmire? Twenty years ago declarations were born that have yet to come to life, and the stakes are high- our collective futures depend on them.
We need the visionaries to inspire the masses because the will of the masses drives the political will upon which these collective agreements are forged.
The future we want is found in leaders rising up. We need the bureaucrats and the protesters, we need the system and the movement; for in the tension between them lies a dynamic possibility. We no longer have a choice, as the future we want is no longer a question but a generational imperative. If we do not declare it with commitment and live boldly into our interdependence, we will face 7 billion people (and growing) all fighting for scraps from the table.
What I take away from Rio is that we need the collective table we all sit down at to listen and discuss, but we also need those willing to take a stand. We need them to shout with their actions and their words because the future we want isn’t just found at the tip of the politicians pen, but rather in the seeds sewn by a generation of global citizens. These citizens are committed to bold vision and innovative action taken on behalf of a collective future because our generation does not have the legacy to wait another 20 years.
My Keys to the future we want:
More transparency and accountability, and a more inclusive process- where the voices in the room are not simply those with access badges
More Social Enterprise- businesses that measure environmental and social impact, along with economic benefits
Political will- this is where the movement and the establishment can meet. If citizens can demonstrate they are informed, engaged and most importantly mobilized, their representatives take note
Global Citizens like you– informed, inspired, and taking action
*Image Above: Ted Turner, Above Left: Michael Trainer, Above Right: Michael Trainer and Mohammed Yunus.
On the 25th of May, the World Health Assembly declared polio a programmatic emergency for global public health. We had a chat with Dr Bruce Aylward, Assistant Director-General at the World Health Organization (WHO), to ask him – what exactly does this mean?
First of all, why now? What makes polio an emergency?
Three things were driving the ministers of health of the world in declaring polio an emergency: first - on a positive note - polio eradication has reached a tipping point. India, the country that was responsible for almost half the world’s cases just two years ago, has now passed an entire year without reporting a case, providing incontrovertible evidence that polio can be eradicated anywhere.
However, and this is the ministers' second point, polio cases unexpectedly - and alarmingly - surged late last year in the three remaining endemic countries, from where it would undoubtedly make a global comeback unless it is completely eradicated.
And third, the ministers saw further evidence that when polio spreads to polio-free places, it is increasingly deadly. In Tajikistan and Congo in 2010, and in China in 2011, polio paralysed adults as well as children in these outbreaks with high fatality rates among the adults, reaching nearly 50% in some of these places. This is on top of other research that has recently shown that if we let this opportunity slip through our fingers, we will soon be seeing more than 200,000 children again being paralysed by polio each year.
That’s not just a number, that’s children’s lives changed forever. Many of them would die. If there was a tsunami coming, with 200,000 children in its path, we would do everything we could to get the children out of harm's way. We need to get those children out of the path of the poliovirus.
This is the emergency: if we don’t successfully eradicate polio now, the consequences will be catastrophic. And the only way to prevent that is to ensure we get the vaccine into the mouths of every child, everywhere.
Why do you think polio eradication is so important?
Ultimately polio eradication is about equity and social justice - it is about reaching every child everywhere with the most basic of health service, and at the same time eliminating an awful disease forever. We have the ability to stop this disease from paralysing hundreds of thousands of children each year. While we’re working towards the end of polio, we’re also strengthening health systems in the process. We’re showing that every child, no matter who and no matter where, can be reached with a health service. And once we’ve succeeded, no child will ever be paralysed by polio again.
What does the Global Polio Eradication Initiative need from the world to succeed?
Commitment and money! As public health practitioners and as parents, we believe that every child deserves to be protected from this preventable disease. And we believe that because eradicating polio is something that benefits us all - in perpetuity - we all share in the responsibility to make that happen.
Continued political support and advocacy is important, but words are not enough. We need governments to make sure they do everything possible to help us finish off the final 1% of polio in the world. We need them to provide support to those governments who are still struggling with the virus and to provide the polio partnership with the funds needed to get the polio vaccine to children everywhere, including the most remote, dangerous and difficult places in the world. We need governments to treat the polio funding gap of US$950 million as an emergency so that we don't have to deny children this vaccine.
How can ordinary people help?
The first thing you can do is to sign the petition to let world leaders know that you want them to make good on their promises to get polio finished. Presidents and prime ministers are, after all, answerable to their constituents. Follow The End of Polio on Twitter and Facebook to find out about other simple actions you can take. Then, if you want to get further involved, you can join your local Rotary club. Rotary International is a fantastic organisation – it was a couple of Rotarians that started the whole global movement to eradicate polio and they continue to campaign, raise money and volunteer in polio-infected countries today. You can also donate
You can make a difference. It is everyone’s responsibility to see polio eradicated. Once we do, we will have achieved something extraordinary for all the world’s children, forever.
The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) celebrated the first anniversary of its pledging conference last week. As we reported last year, during the conference GAVI received contributions from a diverse range of countries including the UK, USA, Australia, Brazil, Korea and Norway, as well as the Gates Foundation. In total a significant $4.3 billion was pledged to promote global health through immunisation. This anniversary does not only give us a chance to mark this occasion but allows us to reflect upon what GAVI has achieved since the conference.
As promised, GAVI has supported countries to distribute life-saving vaccines. The two biggest global childhood killers are pneumonia and severe diarrhoea, which is why two thirds of GAVI’s approved programmes, in late 2011, involved vaccinating against pneumococcal disease and rotavirus. In April of this year Ghana launched both programmes, which you can find out more about in their ‘Doing the Double’ video. This was followed by Rwanda, who in May introduced rotavirus vaccines – (in addition to the pneumococcal vaccines launched in April of 2009). However, GAVI is increasingly investing in vaccinations against measles, rubella, hepatitis B to prevent liver cancer, and HPV which is the main cause of cervical cancer in women. Last week, the Gavi Board announced up to an additional $162 million to combat a recent resurgence of measles, and will target high risk countries such as Afghanistan and Ethiopia.
GAVI have also managed to work with manufacturers to bring down the price of vaccinations so that the world’s poor can get quicker and cheaper access to them. For instance, agreements with their industry partners have resulted in a 67% reduction in the price of rotavirus vaccines. GAVI has clearly had a successful year and the routine immunisation rate across all GAVI supported countries is 80%. You can view an online version of their full report card, which charts their progress so far. The below chart estimates how many deaths GAVI have averted through vaccination.
Nevertheless, much more needs to be done if they are to meet their goal of immunising an additional 250 million children by 2015 and creating fair access to immunisation for all. In the world, one out of every five children still doesn’t receive their basic vaccinations. Both poverty and socio-economic inequality have created a situation where some have access to vaccination but others do not. GAVI strive hard to tackle this inequality; but it is only one element of a larger movement to promote global health and tackle extreme poverty. This includes vaccinations against diseases GAVI does not cover- such as polio which desperately needs further investment if it is to be eradicated. However it also goes beyond vaccination and tackling wider issues which cause inequality and extreme global poverty.
What GAVI have shown us in the past year is that through collaboration, investment, and a global desire to make a difference, something can be done.
* Images: GAVI 2011 Doune Porter Tanzania and GAVI 2011 Future Deaths Averted by Vaccine.
I’ve spent the better part of the past four months campaigning with a team of grassroots organizers through 30 states, 60 cities, reaching 10,000 people with one important message: Ending extreme poverty can truly be our generation’s greatest achievement. But no matter the cultural, socio-economic or geographic differences in the places we visited, our audiences primarily wanted to know one thing: How can one individual make an impact on such a daunting issue as extreme poverty?
So I wanted to highlight an organization that provides the opportunity for individuals to take immediate action—the Enough Project. Enough’s work is particularly important not only because of the tangible impact of their activism, but also because they are addressing an issue in which we as consumers are all deeply implicated—conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a video that caught me completely off-guard: a four-minute narrative in which Enough’s co-founder John Prendergast explains the intricate supply chain linking our electronic gadgets to a cycle of extreme violence and poverty in the DRC. For those who aren't familiar, I'll let you watch the video to truly see the magnitude of the issue, but here it is in a nutshell: Congo’s vast mineral reserves + violent profiteering militias + global supply chains = our electronics products coming at the expense of massive human suffering.
The “conflict minerals” narrative has gained a bit of traction in the major media of late, notably in The New York Times and VICE. This is good news, as press coverage is needed to bring public and government attention to the issue. But a key piece is still missing in order for this situation to truly change: we need a consumer movement to demand ethically sourced electronics products.
Our team had the pleasure of sitting down with Enough to discuss how exactly they are building this consumer movement through their Raise Hope for Congo campaign. So watch the interview, then visit Raise Hope for Congo’s “Take Action” page, where you’ll see a number of different opportunities to join the movement for peace in Congo, such as sending petitions to leading electronics companies to demand conflict-free products sourced from Congo, and pressuring your campus to go conflict-free by joining the Conflict-Free Campus Inititiative (which, since filming our interview with Enough, has grown to 100 campuses across the country).
This is a true example of the power of the individual in the fight against the myriad factors that create extreme poverty. We've already shown with the blood diamonds movement that consumer demand dictates supply, and that companies don't have to choose between "doing the right thing" and making a profit. The Apples, HPs and Dells of the world know this to be true; let’s show them that we do too.
The first time I saw the statistic that 1.4 billion people around the world live on less than $1.25 a day I didn’t believe that it could be true. It is hard for anyone who hasn’t lived in extreme poverty to ascertain what it might be like to survive on only two small bowls of rice and vegetables each day.
To help residents of Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom to develop a greater understanding of extreme poverty the Global Poverty Project operates the Live Below the Line campaign. Last week from the 7th-11th of May almost 3,000 people in the United Kingdom lived on £1 a day for 5 days, for all food and drink. While doing the challenge participants fundraised for one of 21 partner charities. The campaign was a great success and an excellent opportunity for many people to experience a taste of life in extreme poverty.
We should not underestimate the signifance of the campaign, as it seems that a lack of connection with extreme poverty diminishes interest in government contributions to international development. The National Priorities Project explains that in the United States many citizens feel that cutting the federal aid budget would help loosen the pressure of the financial crisis. American aid as a percentage of GNI is 0.21%, or around $56 billion in Obama’s 2013 budget request. This may sound like a lot of money but in the context of the projected $901 billion deficit for 2013, the figure is quite small.
The media regularly reminds us of the crisis in Somalia as they send the message that aid hinders development. Gerbert van der Aa explains that 66% of aid is harmful or has no positive benefit. While aid is not sustainable or desirable in the long term it can help kick start growth and pave the way for infrastructural developments. Leading economist Jeffery Sachs explains that aid has been instrumental in fostering much of the recent growth in developing countries. To promote growth in the developing world it is imperative that our government’s commitment to aid not be diminished.
That is why the Global Poverty Project led the Protect Point Seven campaign. Global Poverty Ambassadors, many of whom had previously participated in the Live Below the Line campaign, wrote to their MPs to elicit support for maintaining the UK government’s commitment to giving 0.7% of total GNI as development aid. Over 350 pictures and hundreds of letters were sent and several participants had the opportunity to personally thank Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Ivan Lewis MP and Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell MP. When the budget was announced, the Global Poverty Project was delighted to see that the current government has maintained their commitment to 0.7%.
Participating in the Live Below the Line campaign has transformed people’s impressions about the value of development aid and the role that the UK government must play in ending extreme poverty. Changing the way that people approach aid has extensive implications for the capacity of the UK government to address the structural problems that allow poverty to persist. For more information about the Live Below the Line campaign please visit www.livebelowtheline.com. You can still join the campaign and fundraise till the end of June.