United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is urging university graduates in the Midwest United States to commit to fighting global poverty. He made his comments Friday night at Northwestern University near Chicago.
Many Northwestern students might have been thinking about potentially lucrative careers awaiting them in business, engineering and other fields. But U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged them to also use their talents to fight a huge global problem: poverty. "The way you and your generation think about poverty holds some of the keys to a safe and prosperous 21st century for all people, in rich and poor countries alike," he said.
Mr. Annan told the graduates the world has made progress in a lot of areas: life expectancy and literacy rates are up, while infant mortality is down. But there is what he calls an immense backlog of deprivation. "Three billion people, half the world's population, live on less than two dollars a day," he said. "In a world of great wealth, in a world of scientific and technological wonders, in a world in which people are more aware than ever of how the other half lives, that should be unacceptable."
Mr. Annan called poverty an affront to human dignity and human rights, undermining universal values of equality and freedom. "Drug trafficking, AIDS, pollution, conflict. These and many other problems are closely related to poverty. We see a vicious cycle in which poverty breeds other ills, which in turn make it harder to escape from poverty," he said.
Mr. Annan said the world's poor countries need debt relief, and a chance to compete fairly in the world market.
The U.N. Secretary-General received an honorary doctorate of law from Northwestern. The university also announced it is creating a new fellowship to a graduate degree in African studies for students from sub-Saharan Africa.