Future UN Social Summit Hopes to Measure Progress by Human Scale, Not GNP the Summit's Focus: Poverty, Unemployment, Integration

By Lucia Mouat, | The Christian Science Monitor, August 31, 1994 | Go to article overview

Future UN Social Summit Hopes to Measure Progress by Human Scale, Not GNP the Summit's Focus: Poverty, Unemployment, Integration


Lucia Mouat,, The Christian Science Monitor


IS there more to development than a rising gross national product (GNP) and a dazzling set of trade statistics?

A resounding "yes" is coming from basement conference rooms of the United Nations where delegates of more than 150 nations, with input from 500 grass-roots groups worldwide, are negotiating a program for the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in March.

The delegates, taking part in a two-week preparatory session that ends Sept. 2, are united in their conviction that the human side of development - social progress - has been ignored for too long. A country can produce impressive economic growth figures, they say, even as its poorer citizens slide deeper into poverty and face new barriers to basic services, such as education and health care.

"If you have growth that doesn't take social development into account, you end up with polarization," insists Juan Somavia, Chile's ambassador to the UN and chairman of the preparatory committee of the summit. "The profit drive in a society is extremely important in terms of creating wealth, but nonprofit values are essential to a balanced society.... We need to reestablish the balance."

UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali says the issue directly affects UN peace efforts. He told conference delegates that social and economic problems now pose a larger threat to world peace than conflicts between states. "Territorial security has been largely guaranteed, but human security is in crisis," he says.

The Copenhagen summit is the idea of former Chilean president Patricio Aylwin Azocar and one of seven world conferences organized by the UN so far in the 1990s. To date, conferences have focused on children, the environment, and human rights. Population will take the spotlight next week in Cairo. The fourth World Conference on Women will be held in Beijing in September 1995 and the UN Conference on Human Settlements - Habitat II - will take place in Istanbul in 1996.

The social development summit will zero in on three issues: poverty, unemployment, and social integration. Conferees want to reduce the first two and enhance the latter through new approaches.

Taking an especially hard beating in discussions are the so-called structural adjustment policies set as loan conditions by such institutions as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In the interests of reduced inflation and a growing economy, nations often are required to reduce or abolish price and trade controls, devalue local currency, and cut public- service spending.

Developing nations and third world grass-roots groups say such policies ignore the needs of poorer citizens. Lilia Rodriquez, director of the nonprofit Center of Promotion and Action for Women in Ecuador, says two-thirds of all Ecuadoran citizens live in poverty, while almost 40 percent of the government's budget is allocated to debt repayment. …

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