Switzerland prepares to host poverty-fighting summit

Peru/poverty Keystone

Switzerland is preparing to host a United Nations Summit for Social Development from June 26 to 30. The event, "Copenhagen 5", is a follow-up conference to the UN's first Social Development Summit in the Danish capital in 1995.

This content was published on May 12, 2000 minutes

This year's summit, which will be held in Geneva and co-sponsored by the government's Swiss Development Agency (SDC), will assess progress made, especially in the field of poverty reduction and the creation of employment opportunities as agreed upon at Copenhagen.

The Copenhagen Summit set the world community the ambitious target of cutting world poverty by half by the year 2015. Three billion people, or half the world's population, live on a meagre income of less than $2 per day, according to the UN's estimates.

The Geneva summit will "not be for diplomats only", the Development Agency's deputy-director, Jean-François Giovannini, said on Thursday at a presentation of the issues likely to dominate the meeting. Representatives of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), women's organisations, universities and other representatives of civil society in their respective countries will participate in a forum to run alongside the official UN conference.

The forum, like the UN conference, will discuss issues such as empowerment as a pre-condition of employment creation, and ways to assist the informal sector in the developing world. "The Copenhagen summit changed a lot of perceptions," said Juan Somavia, head of the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation (ILO), and president five years ago of the Copenhagen summit for social development.

Somavia said the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which until recently focused almost exclusively on financial issues and general economic development, were now emphasising the need for poverty reduction and the importance of policies to encourage the creation of labour intensive employment. Globalisation was a fact, he added, but it needed a social foundation and support "which for the time being is lacking".

Thursday's preparatory conference, which was held in Berne, provided a forum for guests from developing countries. Ela Bhatt, founder and director of the Self Employment Women's Association of India (SEWA) pointed out that craftsmen and providers of services in the informal sector were hampered because they lacked training and the access to credits and markets needed to fully exploit their potential in employment creation.

Victorine Ouandaogo, a businesswoman from Burkina Faso in West Africa who established a small natural fruit juice company, explained the snowball effect of down-stream employment in the food sector. "Subsistence farmers hadn't bothered to attend to their fruit trees because they didn't have a market. Now with our juices and jams we are providing them with an outlet - and with a little cash to improve their living conditions as subsistence farmers."

by Markus Haefliger

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