The prime minister of the tiny island nation of Barbados gave a stirring address to the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, asking who would stand up for people across the world and bring badly needed action.
"In the words of Robert Nestor Marley, who will get up and stand up?" Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley asked the annual gathering of leaders, quoting the famous Jamaican singer. "Who will get up and stand up for the rights of our people?"
Reading a speech on her mobile phone, the prime minister went through a long list of challenges that included COVID-19 vaccine distribution inequities, unemployment, transportation issues and climate change. She said it is not beyond the international community to solve them; it is just that leaders tire of facing them year after year and seeing nothing change.
"If we can find the will to send people to the moon and solve male baldness, as I've said over and over, we can solve simple problems like letting our people eat affordably and making sure we have transport," she said.
Female leaders have been few this week, making up less than one-tenth of the speakers so far. Eight were due to speak on Friday. Their thin ranks highlight the obstacles women in both developing and developed countries face in reaching the highest levels of government.
The climate crisis has been a recurrent urgent theme this week. South Sudan Vice President Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior said it has impacted some 800,000 people across her country.
De Mabior said that "torrential rains" resulted in the worst flooding in 60 years and submerged villages, towns, land and livestock. "Therefore, I call on the international community to help save the lives of more than 5.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance," she added.
While much of the world has been struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, its effect on New Zealand has not been as severe because its leaders were proactive in containing the virus. The country has seen just over 4,000 confirmed cases and 27 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which tracks the pandemic globally. New Zealand also has an active national vaccination campaign.
"We have placed our trust in the actions of neighbors and strangers — to wear masks, to distance, to get vaccinated and support others to do so, and we live collectively with the consequences," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. "It has been a privilege for me as a leader to witness the practical application of New Zealanders' values to these challenges."
Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that "the United Nations stands as our best hope" in pursuing a collaborative and inclusive recovery from the pandemic.
On the sidelines of the annual session, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced $400 billion in new commitments to increase access to clean, renewable energy for millions of people living in "energy poverty" across the world.
"Investing in clean, affordable energy for all will improve the well-being of billions of people," Guterres said.
"And it is the single most important solution to avert climate catastrophe."
The annual meeting of leaders continues through Monday. On Saturday, India, Russia, Ethiopia and Haiti, among others, will deliver addresses.