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MDG Summit: 8 million children deserve change

I’m on the plane on my way to New York for another big UN summit. Like many of the other people that will be there, I’ve been campaigning around international summits for nearly 20 years, mostly from the outside but sometimes from the inside when I worked for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

So I know that summits often disappoint. When I was at Oxfam I remember we called the package agreed at the Canadian G8 ‘peanuts for Africa’ – much to Tony Blair’s annoyance. There were lighter times too; I remember the fun we had being chased across fields by the French police with our giant papier-mâché heads of G8 leaders. And at Evian we half-joked – if this is the summit we would hate to see the valley.

But some of them were different. At the G8 meetings in Cologne and Gleneagles the leaders of the world’s richest countries agreed historic action to cancel debt and give $50bn extra aid a year, together with a commitment to provide universal access to HIV/Aids treatment. And at the UN summit in 2000, world leaders agreed the concrete and tangible Millennium Development Goals.

Public pressure through Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History helped achieve these big breakthroughs. Millions of people were mobilised to speak out and the world’s leaders were forced to listen and act.

We know some of the promises made have not been delivered and that progress has been far too slow, but in the last decade millions more children have gone to school and lived to see their fifth birthday. More mothers now survive childbirth than ever. Africa has grown economically and corruption has been exposed.

So on the first day of this UN summit, and 10 years on from the signing of the Millennium Declaration, we should acknowledge the progress made – it shows what is possible with political will and a common purpose. We must build on it and accelerate our efforts. But the danger today is that just when we are beginning to make some progress – albeit too slow and uneven – governments could pull the rug on everything we have achieved as resources are cut and energy is diverted by other priorities. We can’t let this happen.

It is vital this summit does two things. Governments and others must commit to fulfil the promises they have made. And the world, led by Ban Ki Moon, must agree a concrete plan to deliver the change needed in the 5 years left to 2015. The 8.1 million children still dying a year deserve nothing less.

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