A Common Passion for Ending Extreme Poverty

By Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Hugh Evans, co-Founder and CEO of the Global Poverty Project

Even though we grew up two generations apart, our separate experiences set off a common spark of inspiration within us to end poverty in our lifetime. We are tied to the conviction that we can end extreme poverty by engaging governments, civil society and everyday global citizens.

Most people would not expect that the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations was born into a different Sweden. But some 70 years ago, experiences such as seeing the first indoor bathroom at the age of ten, having a relative die of tuberculosis and growing up with a mother who had only four years of education, are not unlike those experienced by billions around the world. Thanks to investments in strong institutions, infrastructure and education, Sweden now has one of the highest standards of living in the world.

In the past twenty years, countries around the world have experienced similar transformations. The Republic of Korea, a nation once beset by war and extreme poverty, has gone from being an aid recipient to an aid donor country in the span of one generation. More recently, many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America have seen substantial reductions in levels of poverty.

From our different upbringings in Australia and Sweden to our eye-opening experiences around the world, we have witnessed the many faces of global poverty. We have seen graves of children dying daily of treatable diseases such as malaria or diarrhea. We have listened to stories told by girls and women stripped of safety, dignity and opportunity. We have been in makeshift classrooms with children struggling to learn on empty stomachs.

Rather than being deterred by seemingly crushing challenges, we are steadfast in our resolve and our partnership. We, as global citizens, must hold leaders and ourselves accountable for the promises made under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000.

The MDGs represent the most effective global framework for fighting poverty. In developing regions, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 47 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2010. The 8-point MDG plan galvanized the global aid community and focused the efforts of rich and poor governments alike.

The success of the MDGs to date will help build a stronger foundation for ending extreme poverty by 2030. Still, more than one billion people around the world live in extreme poverty. Over 57 million children do not have access to primary education. And 2.5 billion people lack access to safe and clean toilets, one of the debilitating manifestations of extreme poverty.

To this last point, sanitation has a direct impact on health, nutrition, education, gender equality and poverty reduction. Girls in developing countries are often reluctant to attend school if there are no safe, private toilets. And open defecation -- practiced by over a billion people -- is a threat to basic dignity and to the health of entire communities. Progress in sanitation -- one of the most lagging of the MDG targets -- can only be achieved by engaging governments, the private sector, civil society and everyday global citizens. Nobody can do everything but everybody can do something.

On September 28, citizens resolved to end extreme poverty will join forces in New York's Central Park for the 2013 Global Citizen Festival. The event will take place during the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly, when the world's leaders gather in New York. At the Festival, 60,000 global citizens will send a loud and clear message that we must accelerate progress on the MDGs.

We can eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. But the first step must be to pour every ounce of our energy and resolve to reach the MDGs and realize the promises we made at the dawn of the century.

We cannot do this alone. Let's get to work. Join us @GlblCtzn

Jan Eliasson is the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Hugh Evans is the co-Founder and CEO of the Global Poverty Project, which produces the Global Citizen Festival (globalfestival.com).