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DEVELOPMENT: A 'Great Persuasion' Gets Under Way

Sanjay Suri

LONDON, Oct 15 2009 (IPS) - They are calling it 'The Great Persuasion' in Britain as millions prepare around the world to stand up for action against poverty.

The persuasion will be targeted at 200 members of parliament. As part of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) from Friday to Sunday this week, constituents will call on local MPs to talk to them about their commitment to reducing poverty.

The constituents will of course stand with the MPs and have their pictures taken. That is not going to swell magnificently the number of people who will be counted as having quite literally stood up to demand action against poverty. The UK campaign will have fewer numbers, but they believe their stand will go far.

The targeting of MPs is being coordinated by BOND (British Overseas NGOs for Development), an umbrella group for about 330 NGOs campaigning for rights and development. The particular call on GCAP has been endorsed by more than 70 development charities, including several large organisations such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and Care International.

"The MPs will be handed two copies of our international development manifesto, one for them, and one to hand to their parties," Tim Gee from GCAP UK told IPS. "That would provide the framework for them to take action against poverty in the next parliament."

General elections are expected in Britain in May next year – though they could come earlier. All recent general elections in Britain, BOND says, have seen a degree of collective campaigning on development issues with action at a local and national level targeted at political parties and prospective MPs.

Among the MPs chosen, Gee said, are Oliver Letwin, policy director with the Conservative Party who is writing the manifesto for the party, Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, and Vince Cable, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats. "These will be particularly important MPs to target," said Gee.

BOND says this is an especially meaningful weekend for action because it includes three key days: World Food Day (Oct. 16), U.N. International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (Oct. 17) and Micah Sunday (Oct. 18), a global day of prayers held in churches against poverty. Last year, it was estimated that more than 100 million people across the world took action against poverty at this time.

The end of the weekend will also mark 20 days to the G20 (major advanced and emerging economies) finance ministers meeting in St. Andrews in Scotland, and 50 days to the Copenhagen climate summit in December. The weekend will also be MPs' first weekend back in their constituencies after the summer recess, and "there has never been a more important time for politicians to feel the heat," BOND said in a statement.

In addition to the lobbying, 'stand-up' events are being planned at more than 100 churches and schools "to say their wishes should be heard against poverty," said Gee. "The thousands in the UK will express their solidarity with millions around the world." British international development NGOs have set out five areas for action in their manifesto presented to the political parties:

– More and better aid and debt relief – Tackling climate change – Making the global economy work for the poor – Good governance and addressing corruption – Responding to conflict situations

"There is a global democratic deficit," Gee added in a statement released by BOND. "UK policies on aid, trade, debt and climate change can change the lives of the world's poor. As the world's poor cannot vote in UK elections, it is up to us to stand up on their behalf."

Parliamentarians are not being contacted in Britain alone. "Over 2,000 parliamentarians across more than 50 countries will be contacted by citizens as part of the 'Stand Up and Take Action' initiative of the Global Call to Action against Poverty and the UN Millennium Campaign," BOND said.

Some highlights of action planned around the world, BOND says, include:

– India: Campaigners will take action in 100 constituencies to demand functional health centres in every village, town and country.

– Nigeria: Thousands of people at concerts by Sarah Mitaru and Femi Kuti will sign a petition demanding accountability and transparency in their governments in order to achieve the MDGs.

– The Philippines: campaigners will launch a survey about the issues people want their leaders to prioritise, which will be presented to the country’s presidential candidates on Oct. 20.

– South Korea: Thousands will take to the streets calling on their government to increase overseas aid.

– U.S.: Citizens will take part in events to pressure the United States Congress to pass the Roadmap to End Global Hunger Plan.

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