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Pakistan’s monster banner to unfurl failed MDG promises

Oct 10, 2007

Over 3,000 labourers signed on a monster banner to remind the Pakistan government of its promises to eradicate poverty and other MDG goals. The 10 km banner, patched together from smaller bits of cloth, will carry 1.5 million signatures to be unfurled in Bahawalpur on October 17.

When Shareefan Bibi, who works as a labourer at a brick kiln in this town 70 km from Lahore city, heard of the monster banner against poverty being put together she wanted to sign on it.

"I lost a day’s wages by coming here to participate in the campaign to get the government to fulfill its promises -I am poor and literate, but I always stick to my word so why can’t the ‘sarkar’ (government) which is so rich and powerful keep its promises?’’ she asked.

The irony is that Bibi came to know about the promises, in the shape of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that the government made in 2000, just two weeks ago -when Gulzar Missih, coordinator of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF), a partner of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) in Pakistan, approached this 50-year-old labourer for her time and attention.

In the end, no fewer than 3,000 people, most of them labourers, turned up to sign on the banner at Okara on Oct. 5, not wanting to miss a rare chance to remind the government that it was remiss.

Nadir Abbas Nadir from Kalashah Kaku, a town some 20 km from Lahore, is among the signatories. "Poverty is the prime issue of our country and I was really surprised to know that some seven years back our government actually made a promise to take solid steps to eradicate poverty. But the fact is that our government has not even dared to inform the nation about this step and we are thankful to GCAP for this reminder. I really feel proud to become part of the signature campaign against poverty,’’ he said.

''I was hoping that at least 500 people would come and was pleasantly surprised that so many people responded,’’ said Gulam Fatima, general secretary of the BLLF. ‘’It shows that people especially the poor are now getting information about the MDGs and government’s promises. Now it is up to government to respect their voices and work to achieve the MDGs over the next 7-8 years.’’

Among those who attended the meeting were young people eager to make their voices heard. Muhammad Ali, a student of class 10, said he had come to register his protest ‘’in a democratic way’’ about the government’s negligence.

Ali was particularly enthusiastic about the monster banner being patched together from small lengths of cloth bearing the signatures, expected to grow to a massive 10 km in length by the time it is ready to be unfurled in Bahawalpur, a poverty-ridden area close to the Indian desert state of Rajasthan on Oct. 17, International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

GCAP and the UNMC (U.N. Millennium Campaign) have asked people around the world to ‘stand up and speak out’ on that day in support of the MDGs, a set of eight goals agreed to by the governments of 189 countries in 2000 to reduce poverty and to improve health and education.

This year, a clear attempt is being made to make the campaign political. In Pakistan there have been calls to get political parties to include the MDGs in their manifestos for the upcoming elections and also declare whether they had plans to make Pakistan a welfare state.

Those who have issued calls to political parties to make the MDGs a part of their agendas include I.A. Rehman, director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and Abid Hassan Minto, president of the National Workers Party

Mahar Safdar Ali, coordinator of the Insan Foundation that has been appointed as the focal organisation for the campaign, said that a coalition of 35 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), political parties and labour organisations of Pakistan has been formed under the slogan of ‘Bus Bahut Ho Chuka’ (Enough is Enough).

"Last year around 1,000 organisations and 2.3 million people from Pakistan participated in a similar campaign. This year we hope more people will participate in the ‘stand up and speak out’. We will display a record-breaking 10 km long banner with over 1.5 million signatures in Bahawalpur city on Oct. 17,’’ Ali said.

Ali was confident of reaching his target. ‘’People from every group of the society are signing on this banner and 135 organisations around the country are helping us gather signatures from different areas of country.’’

According to Ali, more than 200 women are now busy in Lahore city sewing together the small banners into a patchwork that will form the mammoth banner.

The demands of the signatories include: poverty eradication to be dealt with on a priority basis; ensuring provision of the modern technical education without discrimination to decrease unemployment; promotion of pollution-free industries at local and national level; real steps taken to control price hike, keeping in view the capacity of the poor masses; promotion of agricultural industry to ensure the provision of jobs to the masses; immediate resolution of the problems of the landless farmers; ban on child labour and bonded labour and to stop taking foreign loans in the name of development of the masses without their consent and permission and insure accountability.

Ali said the prime objective of this year is to tell government that half of the 15 years given for the achievement of the MDGs have gone with little done so far. On the other hand, people are to question increase in the budget allocation for defence and non-developmental projects instead of looking to the needs of the impoverished masses, struggling for survival.

‘’Earlier, a vast majority of people and even government officials in Pakistan were unaware about MDGs, although this is changing as a result of the stand up campaigns.Two years back no government official was ready to discuss MDGs but now even the president and prime minister are talking about achieving them,’’ Ali said.

Source : IPS
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