Gridlock in the streets as well as the markets here. Yellow cab drivers red in the face as they honk their horns at the diplomatic motorcades hovering around the east side. I think I saw Prime Minister Wen walking in Central Park early morning, unless it was a decoy. The guns of the US secret service a few feet behind looked real enough. Maybe the premier was fed up of waiting at the lights.
Lots of speeches etc going on inside the UN… President Bush, President Sarkozy. We’re on the outside today, meeting activists from Africa, India and Europe to talk about holding the people on the inside accountable for their promises.
The promises in question this week are the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs (check out my blogger-in-arms Jeff Sachs). (Side note from someone who works in the communication business: the proliferation of acronyms mean that working on this stuff is like drowning in alphabet soup. There is no sense of PR….it’s easy to lose your audience when you are talking in letters rather than words…)
We’ll be talking a lot about where we are falling short on the MDGs, but it’s worth also talking about the good news.
Since the turn of the millennium, 29m more kids are in school in Africa.
Since 2002, 2m Africans are on lifesaving ARVS.
Since 2003, 59m bednets have been distributed in Africa. In the last 2 years, Rwanda and Ethiopia have cut malaria cases and deaths by more than 50%.
For those of you, the many of you, questioning aid on this site, you’re not wrong to suggest that it’s not the only answer. Of course it’s not. It’s trade, it’s governance, it’s private investment. But aid is critical… ask Germany, ask Ireland. See it as a leg-up, not a hand-out.
I’m not talking about the aid of the 20th century by the way. For too many years, much aid was wasted and ended up redecorating presidential palaces instead of building hospitals. That was our corruption as well as theirs. Handing over billions of dollars to a corrupt dictator because he isn’t a Commie, knowing he will use it to suppress discontent and swell personal bank accounts – that makes you complicit. But, this is a new century, and a new understanding of aid and partnership means that we are starting to see different results.
I’m writing this waiting for the Voice of Africa, Youssou N’Dour, so before he comes, here is some feedback on our meeting with President Barroso yesterday… he is going after this one billion dollars of unspent EU money sitting in Brussels. It’s part of the CAP (thoughts on that are a whole other blog). Unspent because food prices are too high for European farmers to qualify for it.
The president wants this money to go instead to support farmers in Africa. Seeds and fertilisers in 30 countries where the rains are about to fall on empty fields because their custodians have nothing to plant. 935m people going hungry each night, and it’s about to get even worse. 75m in the last year.
There is some dissent about this and a big part of the reason is bureaucracy. In an emergency situation, do we in Europe really want to be defined by bureaucracy? One of the things we discussed with President Barroso (before drawing up a hit list of who we go after) was the fact that Europe is a thought, but not yet a feeling. People think about Europe, but they don’t ‘feel’ it. Sometimes it’s easy to see why.