Former UN Relief Chief says countries don't keep promises

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Mona Ghuneim, New York

Former U.N. Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Jan Egeland says, despite economic growth around the globe, two billion people are forced to survive on $2 a day. He blames the rich countries for reneging on their pledges to help. Mona Ghuneim has the story.

Egeland says the world economy is going forward with enormous leaps, and even poorer nations are seeing remarkable growth in their markets. Global means of transportation and communication are top-notch and travel systems are fast and efficient. So why are places like Darfur, Iraq, Gaza, and Zimbabwe still suffering? Egeland says because promises are made but not always kept.

Currently serving as a special adviser to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Egeland spoke at the private Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

He told his audience now is the time to hold world leaders accountable to their word. He cites as an example a decision made at the G-8 Summit in 2005 to more than double aid to Africa. "If they solemnly swore in Gleneagles (Scotland) to put in 50 billion dollars more and they put zero dollars more as a collective, then something should happen in my view," he said.

What Egeland suggests should happen is massive pressure. He says pressure from all sides should be put on world leaders. From governments, to the United Nations, to non-governmental organizations, to civil workers, everyone should work together to demand that promises be kept. He envisions a large global campaign forcing leaders to live up to their responsibilities, even if it means embarrassing countries into action.

Egeland says holding the world economically responsible for reducing global poverty and protecting civilians should be the number one goal of the international community. And it is not, he says, a dream. "If we were even close to reaching the goals that have already been decided by politicians, there would be enough funding to end massive hunger, for example," he said.

Egeland says the world needs to look beyond traditional donors like the United States and Europe. With the economic rise of nations such as China and India, he says the world can pool resources and bring about real progress. Multilateral efforts will work faster and better, he says, than unilateral ones.

While Egeland says there has been a slow but steady progress in reducing global poverty, the security of civilians is still problematic. "Civilians are treated as bad in the wars of today as they were on average in the Middle Ages. On this, we are not making progress."

Egeland emphasizes that world leaders need to act on their agreements. He uses the example of 2005 when 150 heads of state met in New York City and "swore to uphold their responsibility to protect." But, he says, little action followed.

He urged the new generation of United Nations and government service workers to put pressure on world leaders to keep their promises.