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What Are They?

"We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected."

So spoke the world's leaders as the new millennium dawned, in a special United Nations Declaration in September 2000. Just fine words? Maybe. But, for once, the leaders did not just confine themselves to fine sentences and sentiments, but laid down some yardsticks by which they could be judged.

The eight Millennium Development Goals (see below) are the most ambitious attempt yet to tackle world poverty. They attack it on a wide range of fronts from hunger to ill health, from inequality to environmental degradation. And they are accompanied by 18 specific targets, broken down into 48 indicators, which give a realistic way of keeping score of how the world is doing.

The environment has a goal of its own, but it is also central to all the others. For environmental degradation helps to cause many of the world's most pressing problems including poverty, hunger, declining health, emerging diseases, unsafe drinking water, mass migration from the countryside to cities, and war and civil strife.

So far the record of achievement towards the goals is patchy. Some parts of the world are on track to meet some of them. Other nations, particularly in Africa, are going backwards. Much, much more must be done, if they are to be realized.

But the Millennium Development Goals provide an agenda for our generation, a blueprint for the kind of world we want to inherit. At last we have something clear to aim at and to press our leaders to achieve. And we can measure the progress - or lack of it - that they, and we, make. It remains a scandal, as the third millennium dawns on our beautiful and bountiful planet, that a billion people - one in every six of us - should remain in extreme poverty. We pledge ourselves to do everything we can to end it.

Provided by TUNZA - the UNEP magazine for youth

By 2015 all United Nations Member States have pledged to:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day.
  • Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

2. Achieve universal primary education
  • Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling.

3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015.

4. Reduce child mortality
  • Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five.

5. Improve maternal health
  • Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio.

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.
  • Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse loss of environmental resources.
  • Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.
  • Achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers by 2020.

8. Develop a global partnership for development
  • Develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule based, predictable and non-discriminatory. Includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction - nationally and internationally.
  • Address the least developed countries' special needs. This includes tariff- and quota-free access for their exports; enhanced debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries; cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous official development assistance for countries committed to poverty reduction.
  • Address the special needs of landlocked and small island developing states.
  • Deal comprehensively with developing countries' debt problems through national and international measures to make debt sustainable in the long term.
  • In cooperation with the developing countries, develop decent and productive work for youth.
  • In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries.
  • In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies - especially information and communications technologies.

Opportunities For Action

What if your actions could ensure global environmental sustainability for future generations? Would you take action? Do you believe in the potential of young people to help achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?

Last year in New York, Youth Caucus members of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) asked Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the UN Secretary General's Special Advisor on the MDGs, how he planned on involving young people. His response: 'You tell us!' So they did.

Over the next months, the Caucus invited youth experts from all over the world to the UN headquarters to discuss how national governments and international institutions like the World Bank could involve young people in the MDG campaign. In November they published a 75-page report entitled Youth and the MDGs: Challenges and Opportunities for Implementation that reviewed existing best practices and strategized how to inspire more youth participation in the campaign.

The report asks that young people to be viewed as partners and not obstacles in the implementation of the MDGs. It cites examples of youth-led rural development projects, entrepreneurship schemes and peer-to-peer education programs as excellent ways that young people can contribute to the fight for poverty eradication and protect the environmental health of our planet. Ensuring environmental sustainability - Goal 7 - is an area where young people's active involvement can make big differences. Youth participation at the grass-roots level has already contributed significantly to halting and reversing environmental degradation. The report calls on countries to offer youth access to environmental entrepreneurship and policy-making decisions so that their voices can be heard. But opportunities for action do not stop at Goal 7; young people's actions must be felt at every level of MDG implementation.

For a copy of the Youth and MDG report, visit www.mdgyouthpaper.org. For more information on the MDGs and how young people are getting involved visit www.un.org/youth/and www.Millenniumcampaign.org.

Provided by Maria Sterniczuk

Questions and Answers

Caroline Ang of TUNZA asked Eveline Herfkens, the UN Secretary-General's Executive Coordinator for the Millennium Development Goals Campaign, how young people can join the MDG campaign.

Caroline Ang: What can young people do to help achieve the goals by 2015?

Eveline Herfkens: Today's world has the resources, technology and know-how to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, but what is still lacking is the firm political will of world leaders to deliver on their promises. This is where young people come in. We need you to get the goals back on track. There are 2.8 billion people under the age of 25 and, in the developing world, youth make up 70 per cent of the population. Young people have to be part of the national and international movement to end poverty and ensure environmental stability. We need the voice of youth in every stage of the process if we want to make the goals a reality by 2015.

CA: The merits of youth involvement in development have been hotly contested - what are your views?

EH: Youth participation is a powerful tool towards achieving the MDGs. I have found young people are often the most motivated and inspired activists and have the clearest ideas on how positively to change their communities. To take just one example, the passion of Nkom Marie Tamoifa, a member of the Pan-African Youth Leadership Summit, for environmental issues led her to create the Cameroon Green Youth Association. Her organization eventually expanded to a national network that increased young people's environmental awareness (Goal 7) and provided outlets for youth participation in the decision-making process in her country.

CA: You've emphasized the need for balancing responsibilities for the MDGs between the developed and the developing worlds - what opportunities exist for youth from different backgrounds to work together on the MDG campaign?

EH: I would hope young people would first look at their own country and see what it is doing to achieve the MDGs. You can visit our web pages (www.millenniumcampaign.org and www.millenniumcampaign.org/youth) to find out how your country is doing. If you are from a rich country, make your government accountable to its promise to deliver on Goal 8, to give more and better quality aid, create more trade opportunities and give more debt relief to poor countries. Without the help of rich countries the global deal will fail and we will never reach the goals by 2015. If you are from a developing country you should investigate if and how your government has implemented the goals in its policy-level decisions. Has your government set up the framework to raise the poor out of poverty and hunger, get every child into school, empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and ensure environmental sustainability? If not they're not living up to their promises and you need to remind them of their pledge.

CA: The success of the goals seems to depend on sufficient political will and increased aid flows, both determined by professional politicians. What can young people - including those not yet old enough to vote - contribute?

EH: Young people can be just as influential as any other group in mobilizing political will, but they have to make their voices heard. Young people who cannot vote still have the power to change the minds of politicians. I often remember a young woman in Viet Nam - a country that on paper will achieve most of the goals by 2015, but has many rural areas that are very far from meeting them on time - who visited the 13 poorest provinces to educate people about the importance of the goals, and bring attention to disproportionate poverty in her country. This is an example of how one young person can really make a difference. There are many similar stories, but the important thing to remember is that every voice counts, no matter how young. No politician will act unless there is pressure to do so, and we all have to add our voices to the global call to end poverty now.

CA: How can we avoid becoming cynical and dismissing the MDGs as 'litter on yet another boulevard of broken dreams' (as you once warned could happen)?

EH: The goals are the best news we've had in a very long time. For the first time in history we have a package that everybody agrees on and we can focus on improving the lives of real people. There are many discouraging statistics, but global averages mask the many success stories so far. Malawi and Rwanda are going to achieve Goal 2 and send all their children to school. Tanzania is on track on its water requirements in Goal 7, and Uganda and Senegal are able to reverse the AIDS pandemic (Goal 6), while Mozambique might achieve both the poverty (Goal 1) and child mortality (Goal 4) goals. If some of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa can achieve some of the goals, I will not give up believing they are all achievable at a global level.

CA: These success stories are cases where the global compact has worked and has saved the lives of millions of people as a result. And to sum up?

EH: For the youth of the world, tomorrow's future will be defined by what you do today. You have to decide if you are tired of millions of people going hungry, of the massive loss of environmental resources, of your governments breaking promise after promise to help the poor countries of the world. Remember, you could be the first generation to finally put an end to world poverty. Please refuse to miss this opportunity.

Get More Information

TUNZA is the flagship magazine for young people developed by the United Nations Environment Programme. They have created a special issue (Vol.2 No.4) of the magazine devoted to the Millennium Development Goals, and how young people can be involved in the implementation of the MDGs. Click here to download, view or browse through the magazine.

The special issue includes stories, questions and answers on the MDGs, interactions with the two leading experts involved in the MDGs: Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs and Mrs. Eveline Herfkens. It also includes an interview with Swiss tennis star Roger Federer on his sport and development work, as well as features the pledges of young people to do everything they can to end extreme poverty.

Visit the official United Nations website on the Millennium Development Goals.

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