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At the UN, Two Days for the Poor Include French Carpet Sweeping, Potato's Year

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, October 18 -- There have been two days of poverty-related events at the United Nations. On Wednesday, France thrust itself forward as the leader on "fighting misery." Amb. Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters that President Sarkozy has appointed an anti-poverty activist to his cabinet. Inner City Press asked about criticism, including from Medecins du Monde, the group formed by now-Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, of the harassment and displacement of Roma and homeless from around the Stade de France last month, so that those attending the rugby World Cup would not see them. The Medecins du Monde press release said, "On the eve of the World Cup, the authorities seem to want to hide the poverty of the Romanies by carrying out systematic evacuations." Amb. Ripert reiterated that Sarkozy is concerned, but then agreed generally that things shouldn't be swept under the rug. A written request for further comment was not responded to in 24 hours.

            Out on the UN Headquarters' North Lawn, Ripert's deputy Jean-Pierre Lacroix spoke earnestly about misery (in quite a fancy suit, a wag on a fold-up chair on the lawn noted). On Thursday, UN Under Secretary General for Public Information Kiyo Akasaka announced that 900 people at UN Headquarters had taken part in "Stand Up Against Poverty," and 39 million around the world, compared to 23 million in 2006.

Stand Up on the North Lawn, Roma Armani not shown

            Accompanying Mr. Akasaka was Mandy Kibble of the UN Millennium Project, and apparently the UN Development Program. Inner City Press asked Ms. Kibble about a contract with the advertising agency Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, asking how much the UN paid. Ms. Kibble spoke all around the question, including chiding another reporter for making light of the announcement that 2008 is the International Year of the Potato, but did not state how much was paid to the ad agency.  After the briefing, Inner City Press reiterates a request to know this figure, and to see the contract. Ms. Kibble said she wasn't sure she could give the number -- ten hours later, she had not -- but claimed "we are totally transparent." Oh really?

            Thursday at the UN ended with a reception featuring cubed potatoes and cheese sauce, and round potatoes with green sauce, sponsored by the Peruvian mission (which also served ceviche and cups full of the vinegary marinade). Year of the potato, indeed....

  Again, because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540