U.N. chief urges aid for poor at summit

March 07, 1995|By Chicago Tribune

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali called for action yesterday to close the ever-widening gap between the world's rich and poor, but he acknowledged that donor countries are suffering from aid "fatigue" that could take years to overcome.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali spoke at the opening of the United Nations' seven-day World Summit on Social Development, called to address problems arising from poverty and discrimination.

James Gustave Speth, head of the U.N. Development Program, outlined some of the dimensions of the global poverty problem.

Mr. Speth said one-fifth of the world's population has more than four-fifths of its income, and the gap between rich and poor has doubled in 30 years. Each day, he said, 67,680 newborn babies join families living on less than $1 a day.

Between 1992 and 1993, foreign aid declined to $56 billion from $61 billion, he said. Poor countries have cumulative debts of $1.9 trillion, and in Africa, debt service commitments amount to $43 per person per year, he said.

Mr. Speth said 75 percent of direct investment in the developing world goes to just 10 countries, and black Africa gets only 6 percent of such investment.

The United States and some of its allies are resisting several proposals put forward in the conference, dealing with such matters as debt relief and reallocation of foreign aid.

As the conference got under way, some delegates of the 1,300 nongovernmental organizations here to lobby for the poor, including the charities Oxfam and Save the Children, denounced the conference as a waste of time and money. But the secretary-general disagreed strongly.

"This conference will cost less than the price of a superjet, of 10 tanks or of military maneuvers," Mr. Boutros-Ghali told a news conference. "I don't believe it is a waste of time. We are fighting for the long term."

The presence of nongovernmental organizations contradicts what they are saying, he said, because "if they didn't believe in this approach, they wouldn't be here."

The conference is expected to adopt a lengthy Plan of Action addressing such problems as unemployment, social services for the poor, debt relief, help for women and reallocation of foreign aid resources.

At the latest count, 118 heads of state or government will come to Copenhagen to speak Saturday and Sunday at the conference windup. Among them will be South African President Nelson Mandela, French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Vice President Al Gore will represent the United States in the absence of President Clinton. The president's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, will speak this morning and attend a women's meeting tomorrow.

In his opening speech, Mr. Boutros-Ghali drew attention to the fact that 1.3 billion people live in absolute poverty, and 1.5 billion lack access to even elementary health services. Furthermore, he said 70 percent of the world's most deprived people are women.

The global economy, he said, "has marginalized entire countries and regions" and "the gap between rich and poor is getting wider." A conference document noted that there are 120 million unemployed in the world, most of them in poor nations.

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