Press Releases

    5 September 2002


    (Received from a UN Information Officer.)

    JOHANNESBURG, 3 September -- The application of official development assistance, cultural differences, trade protectionism, desertification and extreme poverty were among the sustainable development topics on which participants in the third round table focused this afternoon at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

    Participants in the round table, which was organized around the theme "Making It Happen", addressed five broad issues: mobilizing global and domestic resources in support of the Millennium Development Goals and the WEHAB priorities (water and sanitation, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity); improving coherence and consistency in national and international institutions and building capacity; promoting regional and global cooperation on the WEHAB priorities; bringing scientific knowledge to bear on decision-making and deploying the resources for research and development in sustainable development; and how the Summit could lead to renewed and improved commitments for global solidarity.

    Prime Minister Bertie Ahern of Ireland, noted that improving economies now enabled developed countries to move towards achieving the minimum 0.7 per cent gross domestic product figure prescribed at the Rio Summit for official development assistance (ODA) to developing countries. In addition to ODA, bringing education experts, new information and communication technologies and the private sector into development programmes would make an important contribution to sustainable development.

    Stressing the need to ensure that ODA was used for useful and sustainable programmes, he cautioned against the temptation to impose a donor-driven agenda on developing countries. In light of the numerous partnerships launched at the World Summit, it was important also to guard against allowing those new initiatives to divert money away from existing ones, and to avoid burdensome bureaucracies.

    President Joaquim Alberto Chissano of Mozambique emphasized the importance of making local communities understand the idea of sustainable use of resources. Not everybody understood the importance of the WEHAB priorities, because they lived in different cultures. People did not understand why they had to pay for water, which they regarded as a natural resource belonging to the community. On the other hand, people in the North understood the dangers of contamination and pollution and drank bottled water.

    Similarly, he said, it was easy to speak of land ownership, but many in the developing world regarded themselves as being part and parcel of the land and vice versa. Humankind was related to the land and to water and degrading the environment was degrading oneself. A strong mobilization was required to make such concepts understood. Thus, the vital importance of education, he added.

    King Mswati III of Swaziland said that the implementation of anti-poverty programmes always ran up against the lack of resources and the empty promises made by the prospective foreign investors. Swaziland had begun constructing industries in 2000, each of which employed 200 people, creating jobs in the rural areas where most people lived. If donors would match that effort, they would help to boost the country's anti-poverty programme immeasurably.

    Emphasizing the importance of creating an educational base, he noted that despite making great efforts to train its skilled manpower overseas, they returned to a country lacking a technological base where they could make full use of their hard-won skills, resulting in a serious brain-drain. In addition, Swaziland was often classified as a middle-income country when, in fact, most of its people lived below the poverty line.

    Vice-President Juan Carlos Maquedo of Argentina juxtaposed the approximately $400 billion in agricultural subsidies paid to farmers in the North with the annual transfer from the North to the South of $120 billion prescribed by Agenda 21, a goal that had never been achieved. On the other hand, 3 billion people were surviving on less than $2 a day, while the income of the world's two richest people exceeded that of the 40 poorest countries combined. If not for that situation, Argentina and other countries could multiply their exports, thereby living up to their international obligations.

    Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of Israel noted that humanity as a whole was being called upon to pay attention to the future of the planet, although it could already be too late. The greatest problem was that as life became global, governments remained national. The private sector was now being given the responsibility of building global partnerships, while answering only to a small group of shareholders. The only answer was to form a worldwide non-governmental organization to deal with issues of poverty, health, education, irrigation and other issues of the times.

    Mauritania's Minister for Environment and Rural Affairs said that even more urgent than the lack of resources was the phenomenon of desertification facing his country and Africa's entire Sahel region. It destroyed vegetation cover, water springs and roads, as the sands advanced remorselessly. Each year, Sahelian countries earmarked considerable funds to keep the desert at bay, but their efforts were wrecked by the phenomenon of rainfall and climate change. Those phenomena gave every sign of being linked to the topsy-turvy greenhouse effect -- flooding in Europe but no rain at all in Africa.

    Tunisia's Environment Minister asked whether governments were willing to support civil society initiatives without ulterior motives. Disasters in developed countries brought national unity, which was not the case in poor countries, where people waited for solutions, which were arrived at parsimoniously because the funds were not readily available. That was why civil society should have a more prominent role in disaster mitigation. In the United States a whole array of civil society organizations played that role.

    The Cooperation Minister of Luxembourg called for triangular cooperation between donors, countries of the South that had made advances in certain technologies, and recipient States receiving assistance in certain areas. Cooperation in irrigation, for example, could help countries without the necessary technology, creating a win-win strategy for all three points of the triangle. Assistance to poor countries should be intelligently conceived and effectively implemented, he added.

    Guatemala's Environment and Natural Resources Minister said his country saw part of its environmental policies as being in line with the decisions of reached at Monterrey. Guatemala was now in a phase of consolidating peace accords after 36 years of conflict -- which had had a devastating impact on the environment. On 15 September, the President would announce a 16 per cent reduction of the national armed forces and bring those demobilized soldiers back into the productive population. Today, Central America's efforts revolved around the need to strengthen peace, as well as tolerance and democracy.

    Reuel Khoza, Chairman of South Africa's energy utility Eskom, said that much of the follow-up to the World Summit would fall to business, which had the resources and energy to get the job done. Some of the partnerships initiated at Johannesburg would end up as Type 2 agreements approved by the United Nations. But whether they did or not, business was determined to extend the partnership concept as a way to achieve sustainable development.

    A representative of science and technology said that in a knowledge-based society, it was essential to invest in brains. Science and technology must be made exciting. With the exception of South Africa, there was no new hiring of scientists and engineers by African universities. It was crucial to reverse that trend. He stressed the importance of linking the ecological, social and economic pillars of sustainable development by bringing together scientists and practitioners of traditional knowledge.

    The representative of an international farmers' organization said it was a shame that trade-distorting subsidies hindered development in the countries of the South. Farmers from the developed countries were committed to finding resources to help their counterparts in the developing world by building their capacity to fight and survive in the market.

    A speaker representing a trade union organization from Spain said change would only come about with the achievement of decent labour practices. Labour was too precarious and too many people died as a result of poor employment practices. Chemical substances killed more workers every year than did HIV/AIDS, he said.

    Prime Minister Goran Persson of Sweden, who chaired the round table, said the report of the discussion would be included in the World Summit's final report.

    Others countries listed at the heads of State and government level were Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Monaco, Netherlands, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

    Countries listed at the heads of delegation level were Angola, Cambodia, Czech Republic, Germany, Jamaica, Jordan, Kuwait, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Niger and St. Kitts and Nevis.

    The Holy See was also listed as a participant.

    Specialized United Nations agencies listed were the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

    Intergovernmental organizations listed were the African Union, Common Fund for Commodities and Inter-Parliamentary Union.

    Among major group participants were the Caribbean Association of Feminist Research and Action; Youth; Sami Council; Finland; Third World Network, Malaysia; and Federation of Latin American Cities and Associations of Municipalities.

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