World Social Forum - Porto Alegre, Brazil, 25-30 January, 2001

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Patricia Made


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DEVELOPMENT: NGOs Disappointed With Outcome of Geneva Meet

By Judith Achieng'

GENEVA, Jun 30 (IPS) ¡ Non-governmental organisations have welcomed a draft agreement reached by negotiators at the World Social Summit which allows countries to stop paying their external debt for periods of time, but remain sceptical as to whether it will do much to alleviate the social problems in debt -burdened Third World countries.
The agreement allows countries, for the first time, to give priority to social welfare over debt payments in crisis situations.

But the clause, contained in paragraph 10 of the draft document is vague on targets and will ôrequire more elaborationö ,according to NGO representatives who have been following the negotiations at the World Social Summit underway here.

There is also fear among NGOs that the Bretton Woods institutions, to which much of the failure to meet the Copenhagen Social Summit goals have been attributed, may hijack the process of implementing the initiatives.

ôThe actual formulations are not defined. Details of when to implement hav e not been agreed on yet,ö Roberto Bissio of the Social Watch told journalists Friday.

Speaking on behalf of the NGO group, Bissio said the agreement would change little if it falls under the HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) initiative package, conditioned by International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment programmes, to which much of the increased poverty in the Third World is attributed.

Most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa for example, spend as much as 50 percent of their annual budgets on debt servicing, compared to an average of nine percent on education and six percent on health.

Most Third World leaders attending the Summit have pushed for debt cancellation urging that the resources should go to poverty reduction programmes. But this plea has been met with a wall of resistance among the industrialised countries.

The five-day Summit, which has brought together some 4, 700 delegates met to review the progress made by governments and international organisations in meeting some 10 commitments aimed at eradicating poverty and promoting social development in 1995 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Negotiations were expected to end late Friday when a document outlining initiatives to implement the commitments made at the 1995 Social Summit would be made public.

Disappointed at the outcomes of the summit some 1,972 NGO representatives which have been attending Geneva 2000 Forum, separate from the main event, have drawn ôan alternative Declarationö for the Social Summit, parallel to the main Declaration.

In the Declaration, the NGOs complain that developing countries have had their arms twisted by the rich nations into accepting their terms, while they are helplessly unable to pin down developed countries to honour their commitments to the south.

ôWe protest against the increasing role of the WB (World Bank) IMF and th e WTO (World Trade Organization) in defining social development policies. These bodies still remain undemocratic, untransparent and unaccountable. It is still the interest of the powerful and mighty which they are perpetuating,ö the Declaration says.

ôWe do not walk in the corridors of power, but of the weak. We are not in business for accommodating vested interests but the interests of more than a billion people living in poverty,ö it adds.

Throughout the summit, discussions among the civil society pointed toward the creation of a worldwide movement for social change and for better distribution of financial resources.

ôWe believe little has been accomplished since Copenhagen, most of which was done by the civil society. That is why we are critically looking at the issues and developing a strong position for Copenhagen + 5,ö says Marta Bernandes, an NGO representative from El Salvador.

The NGOs also are unhappy about what they perceive as the United Nations ôkneelingö before the Bretton Woods Institutions.

The involvement of the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the publishing and co-signing of the report ô A Better World for Allö along with the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD, which outlines measures for reducing poverty in developing countries has angered NGOs.

ôIt was appalling to hear the UN Secretary General say during the Millennium Forum that it is because there is not enough globalisation that there is poverty. It was even worse for him to launch the poverty report,ö says the NGO Declaration

The poverty reduction report, they say, reinforces the bullying by richer OECD countries of the south and ensuring concentration of power in the hands of fewer wealthier countries, corporations and individuals.

Disabled People's International protested exclusion from main events due t o lack of access to main buildings, inaccessible transportation, and absence of sign language. ôThis goes directly against the objectives of the Summi t on Social Development and indicates that the UN is unlikely to implement any of its resolutions on social inclusion for any group,ö Rachel Hurst, who represents the organisation told IPS here.

Those representing NGOs from Africa are unhappy with the negotiations on TRIPS (Trade in Related Intellectual Property Rights) of the WTO, which they accuse of denying millions of people access to essential drugs, especially in the advent of the HIV/AIDS.

ôIt (the poverty reduction report) was far from being satisfactory, but on e cannot afford to bash it too much. It is the only thing we have at the moment,ö Albert Gyan Jr of the World Council of Church (WCC) told IPS here.

ôThe big powers have made their agreement, and have already signed it 'better world for all'. We say it is not a better world for all. It is illegal, it is unethical,ö charges Fatma Jibril, of the Horne Relief, an NGO in Somalia.

For Jibril, whose country has been the scene of political unrest since 1991, the poverty reduction report reflected the international community's lack of attention to the plight of he country, especially wome n who run the Horn of African country's economy. ôSomalia, exists on the backs of women,ö she lamented.

ôBut the body language I got from here is that Somalia no longer exists. There is a need to remind civil society groups constantly that there is a thing called Somalia.ö

There were also sharp divisions among northern NGOs and their southern counterparts who complain that they were using their money to manipulate and dominate the movement. ôI am terribly sceptical of the outcome of a Social Summit that encourages fragmentation of social movements,ö said Margarita Pacheco-Monteg an NGO delegate from Colombia.

ôWe need to work by regions, not themes, because themes divide people,ö said Pacheco-Monteg. What is happening in governments is also happening with NGOs in terms of manipulation.ö (END/IPS/dv/cb/00)

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