United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today stressed that 2008 should be the year of the "bottom billion," citing the need for renewed determination to address the needs of the poorest of the world's poor who have been left behind by global economic growth.
"We must address ourselves to the needs of the weak, the disadvantaged, those who have been excluded from the mainstream international community," Mr. Ban told reporters at a Headquarters press conference, his first for the new year.
"And so I say, let 2008 be the year of the 'bottom billion,'" Mr. Ban declared, employing the phrase used by some economists to describe the poorest of the world's poor - the nearly one billion left behind by global economic growth.
Noting that most of the world's poorest live in Africa or the small developing islands of Asia, "eking out lives of hardship on incomes of less than $1 a day," he pledged to work over the coming year to strengthen the UN's role in development.
He also called for fresh thinking on ways to help nations achieve the pledges to slash poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy by 2015, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). At the mid-point towards the 2015 deadline, it is widely acknowledged that many countries, particularly in Africa, are not on track to meeting the Goals.
To help remedy this, Mr. Ban established the MDG Africa Steering Group last September in an effort to mobilize the full resources of the UN system and its partners to achieve the MDGs in Africa.
In addition, he drew attention to a high-level meeting of the General Assembly to be held in September with the goal of re-energizing the world's commitment to the MDGs, with special attention to the poorest of the poor, noting that a similar forum was used last year to galvanize world action on climate change.
Regarding climate change, he cited the need for a global grassroots public awareness campaign to focus political pressure and keep global warming at the forefront of public consciousness.
"The road from Bali will be difficult as well," he noted, recalling the landmark UN climate change conference held in Indonesia, where nearly 200 countries agreed to launch a two-year process of formal talks to tackle the problem of global warming.
The Secretary-General also noted that the demands on the UN continue to increase, whether it is nurturing a fragile peace process in the Middle East, helping Iraq emerge from conflict, staying the course in Afghanistan or pushing for peace in war-torn Darfur. If the past week is any indication, he said that "the coming year promises to be even tougher than the last," pointing to the recent turmoil in Kenya and renewed violence in Sri Lanka.
"We therefore move into the new year with renewed commitment to our ultimate mission - building a stronger UN for a better world," Mr. Ban stated, pledging to continue his push to modernize, revitalize and streamline the Organization, upholding the highest standards of ethics, performance and accountability.