U.N. Holds 'Social Summit'
GENEVA (AP) -- Members of the United Nations have failed in their
pledge to lift out of poverty the 3 billion people -- half the world's
population -- who live on less than $2 a day, national leaders said
``Our commitments have not been fulfilled. That is a sad fact,'' Danish
Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen said in the keynote speech to the
U.N. General Assembly. ``We could have done better, much better.''
The world body began a weeklong special session to take stock of
progress -- or the lack of it -- since a 1995 U.N. conference hosted by
Denmark at which nearly 120 heads of state and government pledged to
``Millions of poor, disadvantaged men, women and children around the
globe expected us to do better,'' said Nyrup Rasmussen.
Delegations were presented with U.N. reports indicating that the number
living in absolute poverty -- on less than a dollar a day -- has actually
grown, to 1.2 billion from about 1 billion in 1995.
The World Bank says that figure will not decrease over the next eight
years unless something is done.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged member nations to recommit
themselves to battle against ``human misery,'' going beyond a proposed
goal of halving the proportion of people in extreme poverty by the year
``Fifteen years from now, will there still be tens of millions of primary-age
school children who are not in school?'' Annan asked. ``Will small
children and pregnant women still be dying every minute from malaria and
other preventable diseases?''
``Will treatment for AIDS still be priced far beyond the means of those
suffering from it in developing countries?'' he added.
Annan said Sunday that ``globalization'' -- the lowering of barriers to
trade, investment and business around the world -- offers hope of
``But clearly at the moment millions of people -- perhaps even a majority
of the human race -- are being denied those benefits,'' Annan said.
Swiss President Adolf Ogi, host of the current session, said that, while
grinding poverty continues, ``not a day goes by without our hearing of
another merger, the birth of a new giant of the economy and the
disappearance of thousands of jobs.''
The United Nations has dubbed the gathering the ``social summit.'' It will
be attended by about 15 heads of state or government, mainly from
Africa. Representatives of 168 governments, and nine observers, are
expected to speak during the week.
While the discussions continue in the United Nations' second
headquarters -- the Palais des Nations -- organizations hoping to work
toward the same goal will be meeting nearby in a ``parallel summit.''
And across town an ``alternative summit'' of more critical organizations
will be demanding more radical solutions.
Thousands of protesters from the third group marched peacefully through
the streets of Geneva on Sunday to urge the cancellation of the debt
owed by poor countries.
``The 'social summit' organizes social misery,'' said some signs.