World leaders meet at the United Nations this week in New York to discuss the most pressing issues facing the planet today.
These issues don’t come much bigger than what should the world do to fight inequality and poverty after 2015 when the current Millennium Development Goals – the yardsticks by which poverty reduction is assessed – expire?
The answer will affect the success or failure of the global fight against hunger, disease and inequality for years to come.
In Bangladesh, where I work, there is much that the UN can do alleviate poverty and inequality. Firstly it must build on its work in the on-going battle against climate change and the rapid urbanisation that has accompanied it.
Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. As a result there has been mass-migration to cities as people move away from the coast and other areas that have experienced frequent and intense disasters.
To manage this rapid urban growth investment is needed in infrastructure including housing, schools, hospitals, clinics, roads and highways, rail, waterways and renewable energy sources. But this infrastructure must be developed in consultation with women and grassroots communities, not just men and corporate business.
The UN could also help improve women’s rights Bangladesh. Women and girls now enjoy far better chances of getting a primary and secondary school education than they did in the past.
However violence against women continues to hamper progress. Sexual harassment continues to prevent girls from attending school. Many perpetrators still enjoy impunity while greater action is needed to address the laws that continue to discriminate against women in Bangladesh.
Since the 1990s the number of people living in poverty as defined by the UN has fallen by half. But there are still approximately 50 million Bangladeshis living in poverty. Malnutrition remains widespread and the availability and affordability of food are major concerns for the poor and marginalized.
So how should the UN tackle this?
The UN must continue to focus on good governance, accountability, transparency and anti-corruption but do so with greater coordination.
It has a key role to play in investing in women’s leadership to find solutions to the problems posed by climate change and in helping prevent the loss and damage it causes to the poorest.
The UN has a duty to help clamp down on the tax avoidance that is starving countries like Bangladesh of vitally needed revenues required to combat poverty, climate change, violence against women and urbanization.
It has also a responsibility to monitor how tax is spent once it has been collected. To be effective, the money raised must be properly allocated toward public spending.
Finally the United Nations must be much more ambitious and make a difference that helps us create a fairer and alternative world for all.