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    For information only - not an official document.
      UNIS/GA/1720
        27 October 2000
     Second Committee Takes up UN Decade for Eradication of Poverty

     NEW YORK, 25 October (UN Headquarters) -- Poverty was the most important moral question facing the current age, John Langmore, Director, Division for Social Policy and Development, told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) this morning, as it began its consideration of the implementation of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006). 

    Introducing the Secretary-General’s report on the item, he said that a fifth of humankind lived in severe poverty and one in seven suffered from malnutrition.  At the same time, the world was richer than ever before.  Hence, the opportunity to address poverty was greater than it had ever been.  The central requirement to combat poverty was political will. 

    According to the report of the Economic Commission of Africa (ECA), Africa entered the twenty-first century as the poorest and least developed region in the world, said the representative of Botswana, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  That was no surprise since the underlying factors which determined growth had, to date, not been adequately addressed.  Major constraints included technological backwardness, lack of foreign direct investment, the debt burden, conflicts and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. 

     Echoing those sentiments, Nigeria’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that Africa presented a pathetic picture.  Virtually all economic and social indicators had declined.  That was frightening considering that the industrialized world, within that period, had witnessed unprecedented economic growth and the generation of unparalleled national wealth.  The lack of effective international action had firmly elevated poverty as the greatest threat to peace and security at the dawn of the new millennium. 

     Some 300 million Africans, almost half of the population, lived on barely $0.65 a day, and this number was growing relentlessly, said Ethiopia’s representative.  While it was recognized that national governments had the primary responsibility in securing a sound and stable environment for development and poverty reduction, international support and the creation of a favourable international economic environment were crucial in poverty eradication efforts.

     Also this morning, the representative of the Russian Federation introduced a draft resolution on enhancing complementarities among international instruments related to environment and sustainable development.

     Statements were also made by the representatives of France (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Bangladesh, Colombia (on behalf of the Rio Group), Norway and Tunisia.  A representative of the World Food Programme (WFP) also spoke.

     The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to conclude its discussion of the implementation of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty.

    Committee Work Programme

     The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met this morning to consider implementation of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006), and the related report of the Secretary-General (document A/55/407).  The report focuses on progress achieved in global poverty reduction since the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995), highlighting the need for more concerted and sustained efforts to eradicate poverty.  It outlines a range of possible actions, policies and measures that may be undertaken both at the national and international levels to enable developing countries to better benefit from globalization, and concludes with a summary of coordination at the intergovernmental level and activities of the United Nations system in support of national efforts to eradicate poverty. 

     According to the report, a major challenge facing the world economy is to preserve the advantages of global markets and competition, while ensuring that the benefits of globalization are more equitably distributed.  If globalization is properly managed, it can produce beneficial effects for poverty eradication.  For that to happen, certain measures at both the national and international levels must be in place.  Trade policy and liberalization should be made more consistent with overall development objectives.  In developing countries, ways and means need to be sought to ensure that trade makes a more decisive contribution to alleviating poverty.

     Education and training, states the report, can play pivotal roles in assisting countries in meeting the challenges of globalization in a manner that ensures sustained economic growth, continued job creation, reduction of vulnerabilities and inequalities, and the empowerment of women.  There is an urgent need to augment the human capital of the poor if they are to contribute to and benefit from globalization. 

     The Committee was also expected to hear the introduction of a draft resolution on enhancing complementarities among international instruments related to environment and sustainable development (document A/C.2/55/L.11).  The text would have the Assembly invite the permanent secretariats of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and other relevant international organizations to provide further information on their work to implement resolution 54/217 and other complementary activities in their contributions to the preparatory process of the review of the implementation of Agenda 21 to be carried out in 2002. 

     [Resolution 54/217 of 22 December 1999 is on enhancing complementarities among international instruments related to environment and sustainable development.  Agenda 21 is the plan of action adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro.] 

    Introduction of Draft Resolution

     DMITRY I. MAKSIMYCHEV (Russian Federation) introduced the draft resolution on enhancing complementarities among international instruments related to environment and sustainable development.  He said the text sought to encourage synergy in the work of the major environmental instruments.  He pointed out that the footnote in operative paragraph 1 should refer to document A/55/357 and not A/55/57.

     In addition to his country, he said the text was co-sponsored by Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and United Kingdom.

     DANIEL LE GARGASSON (France) thanked the Russian Federation for preparing the text and informed the Committee that the European Union had decided to co-sponsor the text.

    Statements

     JOHN LANGMORE, Director, Division for Social Policy and Development, introduced the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty.  Poverty was the most important moral question facing the current age, he said.  Twenty years ago, the most important question had been the arms race.  A fifth of humankind lived in severe poverty and one in seven suffered from malnutrition.  At the same time, the world was richer than ever before in human history.  Hence, the opportunity to address poverty was greater than ever before.  The obstacles to social justice were so great that many people had simply given up. 

    The central requirement was political will, he continued.  Critical decisions were taken at the General Assembly’s special session on “Copenhagen+5” and at the Millennium Summit.  More public action to reduce poverty was being taken than most people realized.  Most countries had adopted policies which allowed the poor to help themselves.  International institutions now gave greater attention to poverty reduction than they had five years ago.  Yet, the obstacles to faster and more effective action were still considerable. 

     SERGE TOMASI (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta, Turkey and Iceland, stressed the importance of lasting and sustainable growth, focused on human development, in combating poverty.  If they were to produce all their poverty-reducing effects, economic policies must set out to strengthen the productive capacity of the poor, particularly through the promotion of job-creating economic activities and measures which would ensure that the poor had access to the means of production.  Those measures must also guarantee a fair distribution of income, a wider range of choice for the least-favoured populations and preserve the environment. 

     The Union, he said, recognized that debt redemption was a drain on action by the poorest developing countries to combat poverty.  A speedier implementation of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative should enable the beneficiary countries to mobilize resources to reduce poverty, particularly by allocating them to social sectors such as education and health, and to promote the rule of law and human development.  The Union was aware that the establishment of a strategy and policy of poverty reduction, based on good governance and dialogue with civil society, took time. 

     The fight against poverty must be a central aim of macro-economic stabilization policies, he added.  Therefore, the Union commended the decision of the Bretton Woods institutions to place that aim at the heart of their policies and programmes. 

     ANWARUL KARIM CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said that even though many governments had placed poverty eradication at the center of their economic and social agendas, global poverty was getting worse.  Poverty was a complex problem.  Over the last few years, it had been established that poverty was not only about low income and consumption but also low achievement in education and health.  Many countries were facing intractable problems in trying to address all of these difficulties.  The least developed countries in particular were facing special difficulties.  Resources could not be diverted to one sector without drastically affecting another equally important area.  The promise of poverty eradication through stabilization and structural adjustment programmes had never come true. 

     The report of the Secretary-General on the eradication of poverty recommended some possible avenues of action, he said.  His delegation found that they were mostly focused in the area of growth and macroeconomic issues.  While growth was an important factor, it could never guarantee the eradication of poverty, due to the complexity of this condition.  Bilateral and multilateral efforts were needed to safeguard vulnerable populations, especially in cases of economic crisis.  There was also an urgent need to invest in the development of human capital so that the poor could lift themselves out of poverty. The leaders of the Millennium Summit had vowed to work together for the eradication of poverty.  Concrete action was needed. 

     ALFONSO VALDIVIESO (Colombia), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said that mankind had entered a new century with a profound and disheartening contradiction.  On the one hand, great technologies and scientific advances had brought the benefits of communication without frontiers.  On the other hand, injustice and inequality had increased.  All of the desires and the promises of the Millennium Declaration would only be made a reality if the international community respected the principles of equality and solidarity between rich and poor countries. 

     The Rio Group wished to stress the need to balance the emphasis placed on development and, more specifically, on the purely economic aspects of development, he said.  It was necessary to give development a more human meaning that would include the exercise of civil, political, social and cultural rights.  In addition to the poverty that afflicted Latin American and the Caribbean, the region had suffered from the devastating effects of natural disasters.  Given the force of nature, these phenomena were inevitable.  Joint action and solidarity on the part of the international community was needed to help deal with this devastating impact. 

     JOSTEIN LEIRO (Norway) said that today 1.2 billion people, or 24 per cent of the world’s population, lived on less than a dollar a day.  That was unacceptable, but the situation could be changed.  Adequate development financing was needed.  Most foreign direct investments in developing countries were made in middle-income countries -- only a small fraction of these investments benefited the poorest countries.  A more development-friendly international framework for trade and investment was absolutely necessary to promote sustainable development.  If efforts to combat poverty were to be more directly targeted, partnerships between the public and private sector needed to be strengthened.

     Development financing was also about better overall resource utilization, he said.  All resources -- not just development assistance -- needed to be used more efficiently in order to reduce poverty.  It had become clear that the HIV/AIDS pandemic was not only a health issue, but also a development problem of disastrous proportions.  The Government of Norway had decided to double its funding of AIDS programmes through the United Nations system and also to become more deeply involved in the challenges posed by AIDS in the fight against poverty.  Development assistance and development financing could only supplement national efforts.  The most important factor was the political will and determination of the developing countries themselves to improve the situation of the poor. 

     SAID BEN MUSTAPHA (Tunisia) said that social progress was a central concern of the international community and was inscribed in the United Nations Charter.  It had been the focus of the deliberations of the major international conferences throughout the 1990s.  At a time when mankind was facing a new millennium and globalization had opened up vast prospects, it was truly disquieting to note certain highly disturbing statistics.  For example, 40 million people were dying from hunger every year.  The international community must refuse to accept a future in which an important part of humankind was subjected to marginalization.  The international community must act quickly to save future generations from extreme poverty. 

    Tunisia’s President had appealed to the international community to establish a world solidarity fund to deal with the scourge of poverty, he said.  Tunisia wished to create that fund in order to make the 21st century one of peace and freedom for all people.  The fund had received the support of the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU), the Arab League, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and the South Summit in Havana, among others.  Tunisia was responsible for preparing a resolution on the fund, to be submitted once it was adopted by the “Group of 77” developing countries and China.  The fund would receive contributions from individuals, the private sectors and all others who wanted to contribute.  Its management must be in accordance with the principles of effectiveness, transparency and flexibility. 

     EMOLEMO MORAKE (Botswana), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that according to the report of the Economic Commission of Africa (ECA), Africa entered the twenty-first century as the poorest and least developed region in the world.  That was no surprise given that the underlying factors which determined growth had, to date, not been adequately addressed.  Problems of technological backwardness, lack of foreign direct investment and the external debt burden persisted despite international commitments made at major United Nations conferences. 

    In southern Africa, he continued, poverty had been partly exacerbated by the ongoing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola.  Resolution of those conflicts had become a major pre-occupation for the SADC because without peace there was little hope of realizing sustainable development.  Additional constraints for the region included natural disaster and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Poverty eradication was not an easy process and could not be addressed in isolation of the whole question of socio-economic development.  It also required measurable and targeted efforts at both national and international levels.

     DANIEL T. TAYE (Ethiopia) said that poverty was one of the biggest challenges facing humanity at the beginning of the new millennium.  The number of people living in extreme poverty continued to grow unabated.  Many developing countries, especially the least developed, continued to face intractable problems for poverty eradication.  Lack of financial resources, unfavourable terms of trade, weak infrastructure and institutional capacity constraints had all undermined measures to eradicate poverty in those countries. 

    The situation in Africa remained precarious, he said.  The continent was highly affected by extreme poverty.  Some 300 million Africans, almost half the population, lived on barely $0.65 a day, and that number was growing relentlessly.  Moreover, a severe lack of capacity in education, health and nutrition continued to be rampant.  While it was recognized that national governments had the primary responsibility in securing a sound and stable environment for development and for poverty reduction, international support and the creation of a favourable international economic environment were crucial in poverty eradication efforts.  The role of the United Nations was also crucial. 

    In Ethiopia, poverty eradication had become the overriding priority since the 1990s.  The decentralization measures, the democratization process and the rationalization of government expenditure had created the political and economic environment necessary to launch a frontal attack on poverty.  That kind of national economic reform programme and development strategy whose overriding mission was poverty reduction needed sustained support and commitment from the international community. 

     I. B. MOHAMMED (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, said that Africa presented a pathetic picture.  Virtually all economic and social indicators had declined.  Life expectancy, infant mortality, illiteracy, per capita income, access to basic infrastructure and social services had all deteriorated.  The increasing incidence of HIV/AIDS continued to decimate the productive base of the population. 

    That was frightening considering that the industrialized world, within that period, had witnessed unprecedented economic growth and the generation of unparalleled national wealth.  The lack of effective international action had firmly elevated poverty as the greatest threat to peace and security at the dawn of the new millennium.  The Group viewed poverty as the single-most pervasive violation of human and development rights.

     The task before the international community was to determine how to spread the benefits of globalization in trade, investment and information flows to open opportunities for developing countries, he said.  The inequalities between developed and developing countries required a great deal of effort and genuine international cooperation.  The developed countries should fulfil the commitments they had made in all United Nations conferences and summits.  They should facilitate the flow of financial resources to developing countries by creating a favourable international environment for investment.  The international financial system must be reformed to reduce the impact of excessive volatility of capital flows and improve transparency in the international financial system, as well as widen the participation of developing countries in decision-making. 

     RAOUL CABRAL, a representative of the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the international community was far behind the target set at the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome to halve the number of the chronically undernourished by 2015.  Too many people, over 800 million worldwide, did not have enough to eat.  The hunger statistics for children were the most troubling.  An estimated 192 million children below the age of five suffered from protein and calorie deficiencies.  Each day, malnutrition contributed to the death of 11,000 of those children.  One child died every eight seconds.

     Development that did not promote food security for all people, especially women and children, had a weak foundation, he said.  That foundation crumbled when political, economic and natural shocks occurred.  The cost for ending hunger was relatively low.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the price tag to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015 was estimated at $6 billion per year added to the current level of official development assistance.  If poverty reduction was the main focus of the international community, one might ask why more aid was not directed towards those countries that needed it most.  Governments in developing countries also needed to reorient their own development policies towards investing in and empowering the poorest.

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