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Johannesburg Summit: Report Suggests Ways to Reduce Poverty, Sustain Environment - 2002-09-03

A group of international organizations has issued a report at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg aimed at giving countries and organizations suggestions on ways to reduce poverty and sustain the environment.

The president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, says current inequalities, in which 80 percent of the world's population earns just 20 percent of its income cannot be continued. The bank, along with representatives of the United Nations Development Program, the European Commission and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, has developed a set of policies they say can help countries generate socially and environmentally responsible growth.

The documents released by the international organizations outline policies aimed at increasing the ability of the world's poor to generate economic growth where they live - for example, by giving poor people access to technologies.

Mr. Wolfensohn says that linking environmental and social issues to economic growth for the poor will be key in reducing the levels of poverty. He says that in the future, these linkages will be central to poverty reduction programs.

"If you read this document you will see," said Mr. Wolfensohn, "this interconnection is real - that environment and social issues are not luxuries, they are [essential] to economic growth and it leads us further to the conclusion, that environmental accounting that comes along with economic accounting is something that now must follow this meeting as we seek to judge the effectiveness of what we're doing."

Mark Malloch Brown of the United Nations Development Program says many of the policies the organizations propose are quite simple, such as giving the poor land rights. "It bores down more particularly to how can the poor use their economic assets and environmental assets in a way to improve their own lives so it talks about issues such as land rights, which are critical," said Mr. Malloch Brown. "You know the poor don't get access to credit if there aren't clear land rights. Clear land rights are also critical to the poor feeling they should reinvest in the land and preserve it for themselves and their children."

The organizations have apparently taken to heart some of the criticisms that have flowed from parallel meetings at the summit. Many of the delegates in Johannesburg have been critical of previous international conferences that they say did not produce results and which cost millions of dollars - money they say should be spent on poverty reduction programs.

The United Kingdom's Clare Short says that in the past decade the international community has reached basic agreement on all the important elements needed to promote sustainable development and growth in poor countries. It is time she says, for an end to conferences and for what she calls "sharp implementation."

"We've now got the whole agreement, the conceptual clarity, and we don't need more summits; we need implementation, measuring progress, getting enough statistics, country by country, that right across the world we can see how things are going forward, who is succeeding, if there is failure, how do we intervene to drive things forward," Ms. Short emphasized.

The international representatives said their report clearly demonstrates a central theme of the Johannesburg summit: that conservation and preservation enhance the ability of the poor to generate incomes and provide for themselves and their children. They say that if governments and the private sector implement the policies they propose, the ability and capacity of poor communities will be developed where it is most needed - in the areas and communities in which they live.