A parade of national leaders railed in unison against poverty at a global summit Saturday, but offered few hard promises to tackle the planet’s worst ills.
In an array of languages and styles, leaders at the U.N. summit said poverty and unemployment threaten political stability. But many bristled at the United States and other rich nations for refusing to pay more to help the Third World.
“We move from one major conference to another, pronouncing with lofty intentions global action programs, but we never … make available the means of implementation,” said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
“The developing world must not continue to be looked upon as a bottomless pit,” he told the 193-nation summit.
The leaders used eloquent phrases to summon up the misery of poverty, while placing thinly disguised blame on one another.
Some 120 leaders, whose speeches will last all weekend, signaled a willingness to implement goals set out in a watered-down statement to be signed today.
The final document has been criticized for containing only vague commitments.
But the declaration also has been praised as the first step against some of the world’s worst problems. Supporters say it will provide impetus and a road map for action for years to come.
President Nelson Mandela of South Africa called the gathering a success.
“The mere sitting together by the leaders of the world to address common problems is in itself, without any specific achievement that can be quantified, extremely important,” Mandela said. “Sitting down to address problems cuts them down sometimes by 25 and even 50 percent.”
The document outlines general goals for lifting more than a billion people from absolute poverty, educating more girls to become productive workers, lowering import barriers to Third World goods and erasing the debt of the poorest countries.
But developed countries - planning further cuts in foreign aid - essentially have tried to convince the Third World to do more on their own - and with less aid.
“Although financial aid is important, we must rid ourselves of the misconception that social progress can be bought with money alone,” said German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
“During more than 30 years of development cooperation, we have all learned that the key to success is help towards self-help,” Kohl said.
In a meeting hall brimming with fezzes, turbans and gilded robes alongside pinstriped suits, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali warned that “whole societies will be left by the wayside” without economic development.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma called economic development a “guarantee of peace and stability, not only in (individual) countries but in the region as a whole.”
Chinese Premier Li Peng said: “When a people has to endure prolonged destitution in abysmal existence, this often is the crucial factor that could touch off a social upheaval and even a violent conflict.”
Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen urged cancellation of debt for countries strapped with huge loans, saying it was of “biggest importance” to developing nations.
The politically delicate suggestion got only lukewarm support. The final document makes debt relief voluntary, and so far only Austria and Denmark have canceled loans totaling $266 million.
Indonesian President Suharto linked debt relief to progress in poorer countries. Pakistan’s President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari said the Third World was being “straight-jacketed by the burden of external debt.”