Tue, Sep 20, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Wealthy nations slammed for world poverty

`EMPTY WORDS' At a UN General Assembly debate, speakers from developing nations criticized rich countries for not doing enough to ease the plight of the poor


Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez greets supporters after returning to Venezuela from the UN meeting in New York, outside Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Sunday.


Leaders from developing nations took the rostrum one after another on the second day of the annual UN General Assembly debate to criticize rich countries for not doing enough to ease the plight of the world's poorest people.

Speakers from Africa, Asia and Latin America said they were encouraged by a document adopted at a three-day summit renewing commitments to alleviate poverty, but would withhold final judgment until rich nations make good on their vows.

"We hope that the commitments we have undertaken will not remain mere empty words," Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa said.

While the focus of the summit that ended Friday was largely efforts to overhaul the UN management and human rights machinery, the original thrust of the event was to take stock of progress made toward achieving a series of goals set in 2000 to cut poverty by half, ensure universal primary education and stem the AIDS pandemic, all by 2015.

Leaders of poor nations made clear that they were not impressed with the progress made so far. A week ago, a UN report said that about 40 percent of the world's people still struggle to survive on less than US$2 a day.

Jamaica's Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries, repeated what has been largely acknowledged by many UN and outside officials: the world is nowhere close to meeting the development goals.

"At the current pace, some regions and countries will miss several of the MDGs by decades," Patterson said. "In certain areas, such as the elimination of hunger, we would be centuries away."

Reflecting a widespread demand, Ludwig Scotty, president of the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, called on wealthy nations to forgive foreign debts.

Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga said "it is unconscionable" to let 6 million children die from malnutrition before their 5th birthday and to have more than 50 percent of Africa's people suffer from diseases caused by contaminated drinking water.

Underlying many global problems is the widening gap between rich and poor in many parts of the world -- and the inability of the poorest to escape the poverty trap.

The 2005 UN Human Development Report, released Sept. 7, said more than 1 billion people still survive on less than US$1 a day, and 2.5 billion live on less than US$2 a day -- about 40 percent of the world's 6.2 billion population.

The 35-page document adopted on Friday by world leaders dropped a call for countries that haven't done so -- including the US -- "to make concrete efforts" to earmark 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product to development assistance.

"Our second millennium faces the reality of growing poverty in two-thirds of the planet," Ecuador's President Alfredo Palacio said Sunday. "Entire nations are condemned to wander as disinherited immigrants, mortal illnesses hover over humanity, and terrorism lurks."

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