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A Golden Moment to End a Golden Summer

Posted: 15/09/2012 00:00

Picture the scene: Trafalgar Square is packed, people spilling out onto Whitehall and round under Admiralty Arch and onto the Mall, straining to see. Big screens are dotted around for those further back. Children are lifted onto shoulders; flag in hand, heart in mouth.

The announcement is made and the crowd erupts in cheering. Supporters of the cause hug in the front row as confetti explodes from behind the stage. An open-top bus crawls past with some of the major players on the top. They wave to the crowd, who respond in kind. Joy is unconfined. All the hard work, long hours by those volunteers and professionals and investment from generous taxpayers has resulted in millions of lives changed forever around the globe. Meanwhile, in front of TV screens in homes near and far, people smile at each other and say, "We did that". A golden moment to end a golden summer.

Our Olympic and Paralympic heroes deserved every bit of the great parade we saw last week. But why didn't this celebration happen again yesterday? That's when the UN announced that the number of children dying each year under the age of five has fallen by 41% since 1990. While 12 million died in 1990, just under seven million lives were lost in 2011. That's 14,000 a day less than were dying in 1990. The progress made in reducing child deaths must be one of the biggest success stories of the last decade. Yet there was no tickertape parade. Good news can often pass us by, or not even make the news at all. But after a summer of so much of it, why not keep it up?

To anyone who has campaigned against poverty and an end to avoidable child deaths for the last decade or more, these are incredible statistics. Even more encouraging is the fact that the most rapid progress is being made in sub-Saharan Africa. And in some countries, the reduction is spectacular. Liberia, Rwanda, Malawi, Madagascar and Ethiopia have all cut mortality by more than 60 per cent. All of us - from ordinary citizens to world leaders - should be buoyed by this fantastic news. But we must not ease up. The target set for the Millennium Development Goal on child mortality may yet not be reached. With still more than one thousand days to go until the 2015 deadline expires, today's news should challenge the world to do even more to reduce poverty and cut child deaths. At the point when we may be turning the tide against child mortality and disease, now would be the worst possible time to walk away. We are entering the final straight and will need a sprint finish. It is time for world leaders to channel their inner Mo Farah.

Just this week, the new Secretary of State of International Development, Justine Greening, confirmed that the UK would stick to its commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid. This latest set of child mortality figures can't help but back up the argument that aid works. Not on its own, of course. My former colleague at Save the Children, Simon Wright, has set out the reasons for the reduction in deaths, and aid is one very important part of the picture. For less than a penny in each pound of government spending, the British people have contributed to saving hundreds of thousands of lives. And so have the French, Germans, Americans and many more.

For me, even in this summer of seemingly endless excitement, this is the biggest news of all. I hope it is for you, too. After all, you made it happen. Take a bow.

 

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