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World: Leaders Pledge To Fight Poverty At UN Conference

  • Breffni O'Rourke

More than 50 world leaders have met at the United Nations in New York in a bid to intensify efforts to reduce global poverty. The UN estimates some 2.8 billion people, or almost 44 percent of the world's population, live on less than one dollar a day. The conference, which results from an initiative by Brazil's President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, comes as the UN is falling behind in its stated goal of halving world poverty by 2015.

Prague, 21 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- More than 100 member states of the United Nations have renewed a pledge to fight global poverty and hunger.

Officials attended a special conference at UN headquarters yesterday at the initiative of Brazilian President Lula da Silva.

Lula da Silva, who grew up poor himself, made an emotional appeal to the conference.

"Let us never forget that hunger is the cruelest of all weapons of mass destruction. Hunger continues to kill 24,000 people a day and 11 children every minute. The challenges posed by hunger are huge and require humility and realizing that there are no ready solutions. We need to be bold to face the challenge with a sense of priority," Lula da Silva said.

The conference took place on the eve of the UN General Assembly's new session.

It was aimed at refocusing attention on the UN's declaration four years ago that by 2015 it would halve the number of people living in dire poverty, ensure that all children have basic schooling, and curb the AIDS epidemic.

UN officials say the world body is falling behind in its efforts to achieve the 2015 goals. They say much more cash -- up to $50 billion -- is needed to implement the poverty-eradication program. And they say that prevailing economic models are not proving effective.

For instance, a UN report on the subject says the income gap between the richest and poorest countries has continued to widen, and that most poor people are not benefiting from economic globalization. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan put it this way.

"Globalization's benefits have been unevenly distributed. Many of its burdens have fallen hardest on those who can least protect themselves. Too many people, particularly in developing countries, feel excluded and threatened by globalization. They feel that they are the servants of the markets when it should be the other way around," Annan said.

The conference saw a difference of views emerge on the way forward.

Lula da Silva, supported by French President Jaques Chirac, is calling for a special tax on international financial transactions. The tax would raise the necessary $50 billion to fight poverty.

The United States, on the other hand, says that only genuine economic growth can provide the basis for improving the situation.

U.S. delegation head Ann Veneman, who is Agriculture Secretary, told the meeting that "economic growth is the long-term solution to hunger and poverty."

Veneman said too much emphasis is put on raising external financial resources, such as the proposed tax, which she described as undemocratic and impossible to implement. She called instead for practical steps to achieve sustained growth.
"Let us never forget that hunger is the cruelest of all weapons of mass destruction. Hunger continues to kill 24,000 people a day and 11 children every minute."


The conference did not decide on any definite new steps for financing.

Does this mean that it was just another talking session, designed to make participants feel good, but with no practical outcome?

International economics analyst Paola Subpachi of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London says progress can be assessed in more subtle ways.

"What is actually achieved in practical terms at the end of the day is to put some of these issues on the [international] agenda more firmly; but in such talks, I really don't expect anything concrete to result," Subpachi said.

The General Assembly is scheduled to hold a summit next year to assess prospects for meeting the 2015 goals.
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