Agence France Presse
31 January 2002

Annan to Tell Global Elite Not to Ignore Poverty
By Robert Holloway

United Nations, Jan 30 - UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will tell political and business leaders at the World Economic Forum that they ignore extreme poverty at their peril, a senior UN official said Wednesday.

The official said Annan had decided to attend the forum's annual meeting in New York, rather than the anti-globalization World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, because the rich more than the poor needed to hear his message.

The rival meetings run from Thursday to Monday. Annan, on a private visit to The Netherlands this weekend, agreed to speak on the final day of the New York meeting after talking to forum President Klaus Schwab. "This is the audience he needs to reach," the UN official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It is more important and useful for him to address these fat cats than for him to go to Porto Alegre, where he would find many friends."

Asked why Annan could not address both meetings by video link, he said there had been "misunderstandings" when other senior United Nations officials did that at last year's forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

A link was set up with Porto Alegre, "but the Davos people rather ran away from the idea," creating the impression that the UN spoke in the forum's name, he said.

"It's not part of the UN's job to defend the rich against the poor, if anything it's the reverse," the official said.

In 1999 at Davos, Annan launched an initiative called the Social Compact, defining ways in which transnational companies could improve their record on human rights, workers' conditions and environmental protection.

"Events since 1999 have proved the secretary general's wisdom; the strength of the backlash against globalisation has become much more evident to everybody," the official said.

Annan's message to this year's meeting will contain little new, but it has acquired more urgency, he went on.

Schwab has said forum leaders decided to meet outside Davos for the first time in 32 years after New York's World Trade Center -- an icon of capitalism -- was destroyed in the September 11 terrorist attack.

"Without making a facile link between poverty and terrorism, the secretary general will emphasise that the existence of widespread deprivation is not something that can be safely ignored for long," the UN official said.

He said Annan would also say something on public health issues, including malaria and HIV/AIDS.

The Global Fund to fight these diseases and tuberculosis, established last year at Annan's initiative, became operational Tuesday.

Meeting in Geneva, its newly-appointed board said it had so far received 1.9 billion dollars in pledges, of which 700,000 million dollars was earmarked to fight HIV/AIDS,in 2002. 

Peter Piot, director of the joint UN initiative on AIDS, has said the fund will need 9.2 billion dollars three years from now.

Annan is also likely to give a plug for the UN conference on financing for development, which takes place in Monterrey, Mexico, from March 18 to 22 and is to formally adopt a document completed here Sunday.

A European diplomat who took part in the drafting of the document described it as a "pale" text that fell short of the expectations of poor nations.

"The commitment to a level playing field in international trade is something we need to see much more clearly spelt out," the UN official said, giving a hint of another theme Annan might develop at the New York meeting.

back on top