Each day around 50,000 people worldwide die from poverty and hunger. This translates to over 18 million dead per year. Women and children account for approximately 70 per cent of these fatalities. According to UN statistics some 20 to 30 per cent of Egyptians live at or below the poverty line, around 16 million to 24 million. The "extreme poverty line" constitutes subsistence on $US1 to $US1.25 per day or less, whereas the "poverty line" is calculated as those subsisting on $US2 per day.
"The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty" has been commemorated on 17 October each year since 1987. For the fourth consecutive year, the UN has been promoting an awareness campaign entitled "Stand Up Take Action, End Poverty Now" with the goal of eliminating extreme poverty by the year 2015. This goal may be more difficult to realize in light of the economic and financial crises affecting the global economy.
According to the standagainstpoverty.org some 10,200 awareness events were conducted this year around the world from 16-18 October. The world record for the largest mobilization around a single cause in recorded history was met during the three days of this anti-poverty campaign in 2008 with 116 million individuals taking part worldwide.
This year the UN, and particularly its Information Center (UNIC) in Egypt, has been working in coordination with celebrities, public personalities, schools, universities, NGOs, women’s rights organizations, sporting clubs, religious institutions, and local authorities among others to raise awareness regarding global poverty.
Beyond the UN’s aspiration of eradicating extreme poverty, it is also promoting the aim of realizing its eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the year 2015. These goals include: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDs, malaria, and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and creating a global partnership for development.
Numerous anti-poverty awareness events were staged throughout Egypt from 16-18 October. On Friday 16 October, the first day of this campaign in Cairo, the Gezira Youth Center hosted an awareness gala that occupied a large corner of the sporting club. The event was organized by the National Council for Youth, under the auspices of its President Safi el-Dein Kharboush. It was attended by Muslim and Christian clerics, and hosted by media star Tareq Allam. Speaking from the stage Allam announced: "This is our means of conducting a civilized protest against poverty."
He added "we hope that Egypt and the world at large will be able to overcome extreme poverty by the year 2015. Let us spread our message from Egypt, the mother of civilizations, to the whole world."
Upon concluding this statement dozens of children accompanying Allam on the stage released helium-filled balloons into the sky. Allam concluded "God willing, we will be able to eradicate extreme poverty in our country and will, one day, all be rich." For her part Randa Adel, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Social Solidarity, announced, "We are all here to remind our statesmen of Egypt’s obligation to defeat extreme poverty within six years."
Other awareness campaigns included an effort by the Ministry of Religious Endowments toward the coordination of Friday sermons to focus on combating poverty. According to ministerial representative Sheikh Mohamed Abu Seif, "The ministry has encouraged mosque preachers to dedicate their Friday prayer sermons [on 16 October] to Islamic means of combating poverty.”
Meanwhile Ibrahim Khalil, the General Director of the National Council for Sports, announced that “this year we will be organizing sporting events involving 85,000 youths with the aim of raising awareness about poverty, and the means of eradicating extreme poverty in Egypt.”
The Sawy Culture Wheel Center also staged its first Rock Festival to coincide with the Stand Up Against Poverty campaign. Throughout the four days of the festival Mohamed el-Sawy called on audiences to stand up as he read out the international pledge against poverty:
"We are standing now with millions around the world on this symbolic day, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, to show our commitment to the fight against poverty and inequality. We are standing because we refuse to accept more excuses in a world where 50,000 people die every day as a result of extreme poverty and the gap between rich and poor is getting wider. We are standing because we want our leaders to honor their promises to meet the Millennium Development Goals – and we ask them to exceed these goals. We join in solidarity with people from over 100 countries to speak out and say to the leaders of the wealthy countries: We urge you to keep your promises on poverty–debt cancellation, more and better aid, trade justice and gender equality.
"To the leaders of poorer countries: make it your first responsibility to save the lives of your poorest citizens. We ask you to tackle inequality, to be accountable to your people, to govern fairly and justly, to fight corruption and to fulfill human rights. Today, and every day, we will stand up and speak out against poverty. We will continue the fight against poverty and inequality and to hold our leaders to their promises. We are asking not for charity but for justice. We are millions of voices standing in solidarity to say, no more excuses – make poverty history now."
El-Sawy also reminded audiences during the four days of the rock festival to "fingerprint your support for the campaign against poverty on these wall boards." Volunteers with inkpads, tissues, and liquid soap stood by these boards encouraging rock fans to express their solidarity with their fingerprints. Chief volunteer, Shady Ramadan, said, "We have managed to spread this message against poverty to around 5,000 individuals, primarily youth, who were involved in awareness events organized by the Sawy Culture Wheel at Cairo University."
Ramadan said, "We are encouraging people to make their monetary donations to reputable charity institutions instead of giving money to street swindlers. We all need to work together in order to channel our resources where it matters most." Ramadan recommended making donations through Sawy’s charity fund, which can be accessed at www.lafakr.com.
For his part James Rawley, the UN’s Resident Coordinator in Egypt, said that the government must redouble its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty throughout the country, "especially focusing its efforts on Upper Egypt, the Bedouins in Sinai, and the inhabitants of urban slums."
In spite of all of the excitement over the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Mohamed Abdel Maguid, a 39 year-old resident of the Ezzbet el-Hagana shantytown on the outskirts of Nasr City, believes that this UN sponsored campaign against poverty is not making a difference where it matters most. He is seasonally employed as a manual laborer, mostly in construction. "What has this campaign done for us here?" asked Abdel Maguid. "Nothing. I haven’t even heard about it."
He pointed to a cluster of shoddily constructed red brick adobes on a hill within the shantytown. "I live in that home. We have no access to running water or waste water sanitation, and we have to fill containers with water from a public fountain across the street each day just for our daily needs."
He added, "Nobody ever comes to inspect our conditions or to provide any assistance. Here we suffer from every sort of poverty you can imagine – the children go to bed hungry, and they have very few educational opportunities or health facilities here. As for the grownups, there are virtually no employment opportunities. This campaign is futile."