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Fight Against Global Poverty Debated at Johannesburg Summit - 2002-08-29

Delegates to the World Summit on Sustainable Development meeting in Johannesburg are trying to agree on how to fight global poverty while protecting the environment. A major question is whether the summit will produce any concrete results.

The five major issues at the summit are health, agriculture, water and sanitation, bio-diversity, and energy. All of them, to some degree, have sparked disagreement between various groups of nations.

For example, Europe and the United States are on opposite sides of the debate over increasing the use of renewable energy sources. But the United States and Europe are allied against the developing world regarding trade and agriculture, particularly over the issue of agricultural subsidies.

The head of UNICEF, the U.N. Children's Fund, Carol Bellamy, says the meeting appears to be drawing closer to consensus.

"I gather that there is increasing agreement around a number of issues and I think that's very good," she said. "I think one of the problems with this meeting is the breadth of the issues that it is taking on is so great that it makes it a little bit more difficult to focus. But I think we'll see some concrete actions out of this meeting."

Regardless of what the delegates decide, other experts warn that rich nations will have to devote money and lots of it, if the goals are to be reached. Jeffrey Sachs teaches sustainable development at Columbia University in New York. He is also a special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"I think the real question for the summit is whether there will be some concrete results that will come out of all of this. And for real results, that will require money," he said. " Words not backed by the financial means are going to be just another round of disappointment. So we need real goals, a real blueprint and the real financing. And that's what we've got to watch next week to see whether any of that is going to be agreed."

Ms. Bellamy of UNICEF agrees that funding will be a major issue. She says her agency is urging the world to commit itself to concrete goals on improving children's access to water and sanitation.

"As with all these global meetings the test of the meeting really in our view is not what's said in the document but whether anything happens afterward," Ms. Bellamy noted. "What I don't think needs to happen is to create parallel institutions or parallel agreements. There are good goals already set in a number of areas. So let's make the commitment to achieve those goals rather than just setting new goals."

Ms. Bellamy says water and sanitation are connected to a number of other development goals. For example, she says, if schools have proper toilet facilities for girls, girls are more likely to attend school. Despite disagreement at the summit over a variety of issues, she thinks those basic humanitarian goals should be uncontroversial.