Junior Minister's Speech- Amnesty International Poverty And Human Rights / Millenium Development Goals Event 13th September 2010

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Good afternoon everyone and many thanks for inviting me here today to speak at your ‘Poverty, Health and Human Rights’ Event.

I would like to convey a special word of welcome to Anand Grover, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Health, who has kindly agreed to come along today to address local specialists from the Poverty, Health, Human Rights and Political sectors.  I believe Anand that this is your visit to Northern Ireland. I hope it proves to be a most enjoyable experience for you and we look forward to hearing your views later.

Everyone has a right to a decent standard of living and Government here is committed to ensuring that everything possible is done to assist those individuals, groups and areas here that are experiencing poverty and social exclusion. 

I am here today to show the Executive’s support and to assure you that addressing poverty and inequality is at the heart of the Executive’s agenda.

Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognises the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living including adequate food, clothing and housing.

It also recognises the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.

The Covenant came into force in 1976, and 2010 must have seemed a very long way away.  Thirty-four years would, by most people’s reckoning, be time enough to eradicate poverty or at least to reduce it significantly.

And yet 34 years later significant numbers of people around the world live in poverty, do not have an adequate standard of living and experience hunger.

So, what have Governments done to address the issue?

In September 2000 world leaders came together at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration and create a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty – as a result eight Millennium Development Goals were established.

The goals included:  eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; and reducing child mortality; all by 2015.

The practical plan to achieving the Millennium Development Goals said:

“We have the opportunity in the coming decade to cut world poverty by half.  Billions more people could enjoy the fruits of the global economy. Tens of millions of lives can be saved. The practical solutions exist. The political framework is established. And for the first time, the cost is utterly affordable.  

Whatever one’s motivation for attacking the crisis of extreme poverty — human rights, religious values, security, fiscal prudence, ideology — the solutions are the same. All that is needed is action.”

Clearly in 2000 there was real optimism that once and for all, countries could work together to eradicate poverty and hunger.  And the 2010 Millennium Development Goals Report tells us that progress on poverty reduction is still being made, despite significant setbacks caused by the 2008-2009 economic downturn, and food and energy crises.  The developing world as a whole remains on track to achieve the poverty reduction target by 2015.  The overall poverty rate is still expected to fall to 15 per cent by 2015, which translates to around 920  million people living under the international poverty line - half the number in 1990.

So the report gives us reason to hope; reason to re-double efforts; and reason to aspire to achieve even more.  But we know that even if Millennium Development Goals are achieved there will still be millions of people in the world in severe poverty, millions who do not have an adequate standard of living and millions of adults in children who are hungry.  The Executive, the All-party International Development Committee, the NGO and stakeholder must all work together to eradicate poverty.  Thank you.