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Rediff.com  » News » Modi, world leaders to attend Jay-Z, Sting event at Central Park

Modi, world leaders to attend Jay-Z, Sting event at Central Park

September 27, 2014 15:21 IST

'Prime Minister Modi made the commitment to put a toilet in every house or school across India by 2019 and end open defecation, which is really a bold leadership move in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi's 150th birthday. It is something that we commend and we think that it's an example across the Indian subcontinent.'

Around 60,000 people are expected to attend the Global Poverty Project Global Citizens festival in Central Park on Saturday, September 27. One of them will be Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Other world leaders expected are United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank, President Dr Jim Kim and four other prime ministers besides Modi: Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, Sushil Koirala of Nepal, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and Erna Solberg of Norway.

"It's an amazing group of world leaders who are coming together, united by this common mission that we can be the generation that can see an end to extreme poverty in our lifetimes," says Hugh Evans, CEO, Global Poverty Project.

The event will host such musical icons as rapper Jay Z, country singer Carrie Underwood and DJ Tiesto, rock band No Doubt, alt-pop group Fun, and hip-hop artists The Roots, Besides, there will be performances by Sting and Alicia Keys.

When he was just 14, Evans saw the ravages that extreme poverty can wreck when visiting development programmes in The Philippines, and later in India where he spent time as an exchange student in Mussoorie in what was then Uttar Pradesh.

"Even though we only founded the GPP in 2009, it has been a lifelong passion of mine," says Evans.

"Our mission is focused on the end of extreme poverty," Evans says. "We're trying to achieve first specific things around sanitation, around vaccines and immunisation and education for girls... to focus the efforts to achieve the outcomes that we have (in mind)."

He is speaking of extreme poverty in the terms the World Bank defines it: People living on less than $1.75 per day. The challenge addressed the needs of about 1.2 billion people -- in sub-Saharan Africa, pockets of South-east Asia, such as Timor and Papua New Guinea, and pockets of the Indian subcontinent as well.

Speaking of India's poor, Evans says there are more extreme poor in Africa than there are in India.

"I guess if you include the definition of under $2 a day, then yes, by sheer population size there would be more poor in India. But if you are talking about those who will literally die from a lack of a 30-cent immunisation, then there are more in sub-Saharan Africa."

Evans gets particularly animated when asked if India was not particularly affected by problems with water and sanitation.

"That was the topic of my conversation with Prime Minister Modi when I was in New Delhi about four weeks ago with Congressman Aaron Schock," he says, describing how Modi accepted the invitation to attend the festival.

"We were absolutely delighted at his Red Fort speech," Evans adds.

"Prime Minister Modi made the commitment to put a toilet in every house or school across India by 2019 and end open defecation, which is really a bold leadership move in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi's 150th birthday. It is something that we commend and we think that it's an example across the Indian subcontinent," Evans says.

But what about water security and its relationship with sanitation?

"Water security is a much more challenging issue," Evans says. "My father (Richard Evans) is a himself a hydrogeologist in Australia. All my life he has lectured me on the challenges of salinity in groundwater and water security more broadly. It is something that I -- (Evans laughs) -- have known all my life. Water security is the great challenge of this generation. It will only become increasingly challenging."

Evans says that people have come up with sanitation and waste disposal mechanisms that use less water.

"But the two are intimately connected, and obviously contamination of drinking water by arsenic," he says, "or by (effects on) the water table are going to have an impact on those that try to dig wells in rural and regional communities."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets crowds outside his hotel upon his arrival in New York. Photograph: Vijay Verma/PTI Photo
A Special Correspondent/Rediff.com in New York