UN Day 2005 Speech

My Friends in Rotary

It is indeed a pleasure to be here for Rotary International UN Day – an occasion that gives us cause to Celebrate Rotary and the excellent relationship we share with the United Nations.

As most of you are aware, this year we are proud to Celebrate Rotary because of our upcoming Centennial Anniversary. There are few organizations that last 100 years – and the fact that Rotary has reached this important milestone is a sign that the world is in great need of what Rotary has to offer – service, fellowship, world understanding and peace. But in addition to being the 100th anniversary of Rotary, 2005 also marks the 50th anniversary of the UN Charter Conference, a delegation that included 49 Rotarians. In the 50 years since that charter conference, Rotarians have worked closely with the UN and its many agencies to alleviate hunger, provide clean water and sanitation, and fight disease.

And, of course, Rotary has worked closely with UN agencies to wipe out polio worldwide.

In this race to reach the last child and eradicate this disease once and for all, we are facing tremendous obstacles. But by working with our partners -•- the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the CDC and governments throughout the world we are getting past those obstacles.

But we must also take heed of this sobering fact:

Every time we let down our guard, polio cases spike. We saw this in 2002 in India. A few more than 1500 cases were reported and it was no coincidence that these cases were in a part of India that had not been covered by the most recent National Immunization Days.

We have come so far and we have accomplished so much -•- we must not lose our resolve in these final months. And part of that resolve is to stay in constant communication with our PolioPlus partners and with governments and non-governmental organizations throughout the world.

Last month, it was my honor to represent Rotary at the Polio Summit in India. It was inspiring to be there – because even though polio is not yet fully eradicated in India, the story of the polio eradication in India is a success story. Remarkable progress has been made in the fight against polio there- thanks to the high level of cooperation and commitment from the PolioPlus partners, the Indian government, the Ministry of Health and the Indian Rotarians.

Whenever I am in India, I am reminded of the time I was, there in 1998 – when it was my privilege to serve as volunteer for a massive National Immunization Day. I was in Chandigarh – just one of the 100,000 volunteers who participated in the historic event to immunize 134 million children throughout India. Rotarians, Rotaractors, Interactors, health care workers, spouses, friends – there were more than enough volunteers to fill a football stadium, if we had gathered in one place.

There are images from that day that still stand out in my mind – images of children who came to us with babies in their arms – their younger siblings. I remember how carefully the big brothers and sisters watched the entire process – they wanted to be absolutely certain that those two precious drops of vaccine went into the mouths of their infant siblings. Even though they were only eleven or twelve years old – they knew all about the devastation that polio brings. Some of them had family or friends who had been stricken by the disease. Nearly all of them had, at one time or another, seen a polio survivor – with withered limbs, unable to stand or walk.

I was proud to be a Rotarian that day and I was proud to be part of a partnership that had reduced the world’s polio cases by 99 percent.

But as we know, the last one percent represents the greatest challenge. We are all aware of the dire situation in Nigeria. So far this year there have been more than 500 polio cases there. And because the wild polio virus can jump borders and travel across continents, twelve African countries are now reinfected – countries where the transmission of the polio virus had been successfully interrupted. Africa was threatened by a full-fledged polio epidemic – thousands of children are at risk. Under Secretary General Carol Bellamy of UNICEF, in my office Monday this week said, “We have a real chance still to stop polio during this 100th anniversary of Rotary.”

There is tremendous hope that the situation can be brought under control. Intense efforts to resume immunizations in Nigeria were successful – and last month, more than 80 million African children were immunized during a series of synchronized National Immunization Days. 23 countries across west and Central Africa participated in these recent NI DS – including war-ravaged Sudan.

This is yet another great milestone in our ongoing campaign to rid the world of polio – one that brings us closer to our goal. But until we reach that last child, we are not done.

PolioPlus is an inspiring look at what we can achieve through partnerships. When like-minded organizations work together, no goal is too ambitious.

And even as we work to eradicate polio – we know that there is much work to be done in other areas, too. Here at the United Nations, I was told that:

  • 42 million people have the HIV Virus and this number is growing at a phenomenal rate each day.
  • Malaria is a major problem throughout the developing Hung developing world. Hunger is a significant issue in many parts of the world.
  • Avoidable blindness is an effective program – but the need in this area is so great that we could be doing even more.
  • Population development is a concern to many people e in our world and in our own communities.
  • Diabetes affects large numbers of people – and that number is growing.
  • and two billion people in this world cannot read.

The Programs Director for UNICEF told me that 1.2 billion people in this world do not have safe, clean water to drink. It was reported that 6,000 people die every day for the lack of clean water and proper sanitation and most of them are children. Scientists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell me that the vast majority of infectious diseases are transmitted through unclean water – including polio since poor sanitation is often a factor in polio transmission.

In developed countries, the problems are different though no less critical. Pollution, the lack of awareness about the importance of conservation, and poor irrigation practices put precious water resources at risk all over the world. Access to safe water is a growing concern – in fact, it is said that water could eventually’ be more valuable than gold. I believe that in our second century of service, Rotarians will be developing more and more partnerships with UN agencies and other organizations to improve water safety and access throughout our world. I was in Paris in mid-October and met with the Director General and members of the senior staff at UNESCO. Water is of major concern at UNESCO.

As we look forward to Rotary’s future – it is appropriate to reflect upon our achievements – but not to simply congratulate ourselves for a job well done. Instead, we must draw inspiration from past success to help us achieve the goals of a new century of service.

So let us Celebrate Rotary through countless acts of service to bring water to the thirsty, to heal the sick, to feed the hungry and to educate the illiterate.

Let us Celebrate Rotary by working toward our goal of a polio-free world.

Let us Celebrate Rotary by strengthening our existing partnerships with the United Nations – and seeking opportunities to forge new alliances in our second century of service.

Glenn Estess, President 2004-2005
Rotary International
Rotary International UN Day