Published on Thursday, January 22, 2004 by the Inter Press Service
Poverty, Not Terror, the Real Threat - U.N. Chief
by Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS - The world is so preoccupied with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction that it continues to ignore the real threats facing mankind, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned Wednesday.
The fears that stalk most people, he said, are those of poverty, starvation, unemployment and deadly diseases -- not nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
''In the daily lives of most people, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are remote and hypothetical threats,'' Annan added.
His statement contrasted starkly to sentiments expressed Tuesday by U.S. President George W. Bush. In his annual 'State of the Union' address, Bush said global terrorism was still a major threat to the United States.
Vowing to continue his political and military crusade against terrorism and WMD, Bush warned his countrymen against going ''back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us''.
If the United States had failed to act in Iraq, he continued, former president Saddam Hussein's WMD programs would have ''continued to this day''. Bush, however, did not admit the U.S. failure to find any WMDs in the country it now occupies: the primary reason cited for attacking Iraq last March.
When people are really threatened with weapons, added Annan, it is most often not with WMDs, but with ''weapons of individual destruction'' -- AK-47 assault rifles, machetes, landmines and small arms.
In an implicit criticism of the unilateral U.S. military attack on Iraq, Annan said the U.N. charter is very clear: member states have the right to defend themselves -- and each other -- if attacked.
''But the first purpose of the United Nations itself, as laid down in Article 1 of the charter, is to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace.''
Expressing the hope that the world's attention will not be monopolized by Iraq this year -- as in 2003 -- the U.N. chief regretted that the international community continues to lag in progress toward attaining the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the U.N. General Assembly in September 2000.
Then, 150 world leaders who met at the United Nations pledged not only to reduce by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and hunger, but also vowed to achieve universal primary education and halt the spread of the deadly disease AIDS.
The goals also call for equal access to education by boys and girls; a reduction in child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters; an improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, and a global partnership for development between rich and poor nations.
''Those pledges,'' Annan said, ''should be engraved on the heart, or at least the desk, of every political leader in every country.''
The General Assembly, conscious of the problems facing developing nations, has decided to hold a high-level meeting in New York in 2005 to review the progress made in reaching the development goals.
''We have to mobilize for that event, and firm up its scope and format,'' Annan told a meeting of the 133-member Group of 77, the largest single group of developing nations.
''If we are not on track by the end of next year, all hope of reaching the goals by 2015 will soon vanish,'' he told delegates.
Developing nations agree with Annan that they will not reach those targets unless rich nations help -- with increased official development assistance (ODA), with investments, with advice and with debt relief.
Underlying all this is a demand for a reform of the global trading system, so that producers in poor countries no longer face trade barriers or unfair competition from subsidized imports.
The economic policies of most rich nations make the situation worse for the poor -- distancing them from the MDGs, Saradha Ramaswamy Iyer of the Third World Network told IPS.
Agricultural subsidies, she said, favor five percent of the population of rich nations and impoverish about 90 percent of the people in the South.
The situation with regard to ODA is no better, she said, because it has continued to decline in real terms.
In a report released last week the United Nations said that although ODA increased from 52.3 billion dollars in 2001 to 57 billion dollars in 2002, it still fell far short of the minimum requirements.
''A large gap remains between ODA flows and the estimated 100 billion dollars a year needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals,'' added 'World Economic Situation and Prospects, 2004.'
Last year, the international community was concerned -- and rightly so -- with issues of peace and security, Annan said.
''But there will be no peace and no security, even for the most privileged amongst us, in a world that remains divided between extremes of wealth and poverty, health and disease, knowledge and ignorance, freedom and oppression.''
''Surely, we should have learnt that by now,'' he added. ''And so our first great task for 2004 is to re-focus the world's attention on development.'' The second task, he said, is to start rebuilding collective security.
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