UNITED NATIONS - With Malala Yousafzai by his side, Ban Ki-moon marked 500 days of action until the deadline to reach the Millennium Development Goals, known worldwide as the ‘MDGs.’

“Action now will save lives, build a solid foundation for sustainable development far beyond 2015 and help lay the groundwork for lasting peace and human dignity,” the Secretary-General said at a special event at the UN Headquarters in New York on Monday. He was joined by more than 500 young people, including Malala, who became an education advocate after being attacked by the Taliban on a school bus.

In brief remarks, Malala recalled her visit to the UN last year when she underscored the need for educating all children, and said that it was the best weapon to combat terrorism.

Malala referred to her recent visits to Jordan, Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago in her efforts to promote education. In this regard, she referred to the projects the Malala Foundation was implementing in various parts of the world, including Pakistan.

The secretary-general said, “The ideas and inspiration of young people have been especially critical in this effort and their role must grow even more.” He underscored the progress made in development and the importance of youth involvement in national plans to accomplish even more.

As part of the events, “The MDG supporters are expected to speak out about the need to accelerate progress towards reaching the targets. The UN has said that it expects 500 minutes of MDG support to mark the 500 days left to achieve the targets.

The eight MDGs, agreed by world leaders at the UN summit in 2000, are described as a 15-year roadmap to fight poverty, hunger and disease, protect the environment and expand education, basic health and women’s empowerment.

“Against the predictions of cynics, the MDGs have helped unite, inspire and transform,” Ban noted. He highlighted that poverty has been cut in half, more girls attend school, and fewer people are dying from malaria, tuberculosis and other deadly diseases.

Inequality remains a challenge, however, as does childbirth, maternal mortality, universal education, and environmental sustainability, according to a report Mr. Ban presented to Member States in July.

“Now is the time for MDG Momentum,” the UN chief stressed, noting that the international community now has many more tools at its disposal than when the targets were created, ranging from the expanding reach of technology to the growing understanding of what works and what does not.

Ban details four areas where governments can help fuel progress, including in backing social programmes despite budget cuts, and deepening cooperation with civil society, the private sector and other networks.

Strategic investments in health, education, energy and sanitation are also key, Ban said. He particularly noted investment in areas that empower women and girls. He also emphasised focusing on the poorest and most vulnerable countries, communities and social groups that have the toughest road to progress despite their best efforts.