by Claude Robinson
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS --
a broad review of development strategies and human progress at the end of the first year of the new millennium, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan lamented the irony of a world characterized by unprecedented wealth alongside growing poverty and misery.
"We are living in a world in which immense wealth and extreme poverty live side by side," he told reporters at an end-of-year press briefing.
According to the annual ranking of the world's wealthiest individuals compiled by Forbes Magazine, there were 306 billionaires worldwide in 2000 with a combined wealth of $1.27 trillion, a substantial increase over last year.
Given the phenomenal wealth generated by the technology revolution, it was not surprising that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, at $60 billion, and Larry Ellison of Oracle, at $47 billion, were at the top of the pile.
And in the United States, President-elect George W. Bush has pledged to use the huge budget surplus to grant tax cuts of some $1.3 trillion, mostly to the wealthiest Americans.
In the face of all these riches, the UN chief was clearly disappointed that the year 2000 was drawing to a close with very little progress on key development goals like development assistance, debt relief, direct investment and access to the markets of developed countries for the products of developing countries.
"The fact that some people are extremely wealthy does not mean that they are going to transfer their resources and let it go to the poor as easily and as quickly as we would want," he remarked.
The UN Millennium Summit, which drew record numbers of heads of state and government to New York in September, was billed as a new start by the international community to achieve real development and eradicate poverty.
The world leaders vowed that by the year 2015, the proportion of people with income of less than one dollar a day and of those suffering from hunger and lack of safe drinking water would be halved.
The leaders also resolved to ensure equal access to all levels of education for girls and boys and primary schooling for all children everywhere; to reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters; and to begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases.
By the year 2020, they resolve to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.
"None of these can be achieved unless there is real development throughout the world, especially the poorest countries. And development cannot happen without resources," Annan said yesterday, acknowledging that there was a real gap between the promise and the reality.
The New York Summit came shortly after the Social Summit in Geneva in June which, among other things, pledged to "mobilize new and additional resources for social development at the international level."
Will that happen? "In the past we have tended to look at development assistance as the source for getting the poor countries out of their misery," Annan observed.
The data indicates that this strategy has not worked. For more than three decades, the rich nations have failed to meet the target of giving 0.7 percent of GNP as Official Development Assistance (ODA). Only Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have met or exceeded the target.
In nominal terms, ODA has dropped from $63 billion in 1992 to 51.9 billion in 1998, a trend that is believed to be continuing. At current levels of GNP, the 0.7 percent target would yield another $100 billion.
Regarding foreign direct investment, this has increased but has been too unequal and uneven to have an impact on the lives of many of the world's poor.
A recent report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) pointed out that foreign direct investment increased in 1999 after the Asian financial crisis of 1997.
But, according to Annan, this has gone to only 12 or so countries. The UNCTAD data shows that $93 billion in new investment went to East and Southeast Asia (mainly Hong Kong, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore) and a record $90 billion to Latin American countries (mainly Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.) Africa's investment performance remained "lackluster," as the continent attracted only $10 billion last year.
At their Summit in Cologne last year and again in Japan this year, the rich countries pledged debt relief for the poorest. But the promise has been bogged down by bickering.
The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries' (HIPC) Initiative of the IMF and World Bank aims to begin debt relief for 20 countries by the end of 2000. The institutions claim that the 20 countries will be relieved of approximately
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