Press Releases

    10 April 2002


    NEW YORK, 9 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of today’s address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the University of Alcalá, Spain:

    Thank you for the very fine words that you spoke about me and my organization. Let me say what a pleasure it is to be in Spain at this time for the World Assembly on Ageing. And let me stress how privileged I feel to receive an honorary degree from a distinguished institution.

    The links between Alcalá and the United Nations are strong indeed.The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recognized this centuries-old seat of learning as a world heritage site. Even more important than the beautiful design of these historic buildings is what goes on inside them: you are spreading today's knowledge and training tomorrow's leaders.

    The Alcalá community is a fount of wisdom for yet another reason: the timeless work of the town’s most famous son, Miguel Cervantes. Don Quixote belongs to all times and all societies. Let me quote a line from that great work as a jumping-off point for my remarks today:

    "There are only two families in the world -- the Haves and the Have-nots", Cervantes wrote.

    Cervantes could have been speaking and writing about our own era, when some people enjoy fabulous wealth, while nearly half of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day.

    Imagine limping through the days in servitude as a bonded labourer, or through long hours of backbreaking work in a field or unsafe factory.

    Imagine having to live in a one-room shack underneath an expressway, with no clean water and no electricity.

    Extreme poverty is all this and more. It means little chance of attending school, and a real possibility of dying from a preventable disease before the age of five, or at any age from HIV/AIDS. It means going to bed hungry, and waking up without hope that things will change. It means no social safety net when disaster strikes, and little prospect of a quiet, restful old age.

    This is the face of chronic, endemic, and soul-stifling poverty. Such suffering touches all of us. Poverty is everyone’s concern -- and not just because there is a moral imperative to help others find dignity and peace. We might be the haves and have-nots, but we are a single human family. No one in this world can feel comfortable, or safe, while so many are suffering and deprived. As one development minister put it recently, poverty anywhere is poverty everywhere.

    The global environment is a prime example. Poor people often clear vast tracts of forest to create agricultural land, leaving fewer trees to soak up greenhouse gases and help combat global warming. Poor countries are also less likely to have the resources and technologies needed to implement policies that protect the environment.

    Poor countries -- especially those with significant inequality between ethnic and religious groups -- are far more likely than rich countries to be embroiled in conflicts and political upheaval, with consequences such as refugee flows and economic disruptions that spill across borders.

    Combine chronic poverty with a perception of injustice or neglect and a lack of legitimate means to address these problems, and all too often a door is opened to criminal behaviour such as international drug trafficking, to violence or to the false allure of political and religious extremism.

    Poverty also has a huge opportunity cost, robbing the world of the contributions that destitute men and women would otherwise make through their own labour and productivity; through their energies and ideas; and by earning for their children and nurturing the growth of their societies.

    None of this is meant as an indictment of the poor, but rather the grim circumstances that leave them so few choices. The multiple hardships they face feed on each other in a vicious cycle that is difficult to escape. But there is an antidote: development -- balanced development encompassing education and health; human rights, good governance and the rule of law; strong institutions and environmental protection; sound policies that give a voice and opportunities to all, most notably women.

    Today the quest for development has reached a turning point. Eighteen months ago, world leaders meeting at the Millennium Summit agreed that we should use the first 15 years of this new century to begin a major onslaught on poverty, illiteracy and disease, and established a set of very specific targets -- the Millennium Development Goals. Just last month, world leaders gathered again, this time in Monterrey, Mexico, for the International Conference on Financing for Development, where they discussed how to mobilize the resources needed for these goals.

    The consensus reached in Monterrey reflects a transformation in the view of the poor. All too often, they have been regarded as objects of charity. Today we know that the poor do not want handouts, but rather a hand up. Indeed, they are enormous, untapped reservoirs of initiative and entrepreneurship, who must be full partners in the development process, but whose energies are often held in check by poverty, misrule or conflict.

    The consensus also reflects a landmark global deal between developed and developing countries. The latter, it is understood, will continue to reform their economies, strengthen their institutions, fight corruption, respect human rights and the rule of law, and spend more money on the needs of the poor. And the developed countries will support them by providing debt relief, opening their markets, offering a bigger say in decision-making on the global economy, and providing more and better-targeted aid and investment.

    On the question of aid in particular, Monterrey produced a true breakthrough. Both the United States and the European Union used the occasion to announce substantial increases in official development assistance. These numbers leave us well short of the increase of $50 billion per year that all serious studies agree is needed to reach the Millennium Development Goals. But they represent a major change in attitude. The decade-long decline in aid is at last beginning to be reversed. The argument in favour of aid is being won.

    Sometimes I think that we who make the case for aid are our own worst enemies. For good reasons, we tend to stress the urgent needs of the moment. Yet in doing so we sometimes forget the immense improvements in the quality of human existence that aid has helped to bring about. Over the last 30 years, average life expectancy worldwide has risen from 60 to 70 years. The infant mortality rate has dropped from 100 to 50 per thousand live births. The adult literacy rate rose from slightly over 60 per cent to nearly 80 per cent. And since 1980, the number of people living on less than $1 a day has fallen by 200 million, even as population has grown by 1.6 billion.

    This is just some of what aid can do and can help to achieve when it is channelled to countries with enlightened leaders, efficient institutions and effective policies. Studies show that the poorest countries benefit more than others; that investment in health, human resources and public infrastructure yields promising dividends; and that even modest amounts of aid can have a big impact.

    Aid that is tied to the business or geopolitical interests of donors can be problematic, at least in terms of development. And we cannot give with one hand and take with the other. It is no good helping a country's dairy farmers if, at the same time, you are exporting subsidized milk powder to it. And it is no good opening markets to developing-country goods while keeping enormous agricultural and other subsidies in place that render those goods uncompetitive.

    We have the tools to defeat poverty. We have the technology and the strategies. We even, at long last, have signs that the political will and resources needed will be available.

    Spain, for its part, has an asset of tremendous value: the knowledge of the great distance that can be traveled when a people and its partners put their minds to it. It was not so long ago, less than a century, that impoverishment was the daily lot of most people in Spain. It was even more recently that oppression and the aftermath of war hindered Spain’s efforts to develop. As Prime Minister Aznar pointed out in Monterrey, 20 years ago, Spain received Overseas Development Assistance; today, it provides aid to others.

    You know what it takes to transform an old and stultifying order into a new regime that liberates the energies of a people to create wealth and well-being. Moreover, your geographic position in the Mediterranean keeps you in touch with the aspirations of others, who want only a chance to improve their own lives.

    I urge you to continue sharing that knowledge with the rest of the world. You have more choices and freedoms, you who are fortunate to be part of a renowned academic community, you who have an interest in this quest and can influence the outcome -- can and must use power to shape a better world -- not just for the poor but for all people.

    Let me quote once again from your most famous citizen: Cervantes wrote that, "Diligence is the mother of good fortune". Yes, let us be diligent and do our utmost to help the poor throughout the world. Muchas gracias amigos.

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