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Campaign highlights "abnormal" Swiss poverty

In Bern, the white band was unfurled along the main street

(Keystone)

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey says that it is "not normal" for people to be suffering poverty in "a rich country" like Switzerland.

She made her comments after receiving a delegation of poor families in the Swiss capital, Bern, as part of events to mark International Day against Poverty on Wednesday.

"People have huge financial problems but Switzerland is a rich country with a growing gross domestic product and a flourishing economy," Calmy-Rey said.

She told the Swiss News Agency that not every one was able to share in the country's wealth and this "was not normal".

The president met around 50 people in a delegation organised by the non-governmental organisation ATD Fourth World Switzerland.

An estimated one million people - one in seven residents in Switzerland - are affected by poverty, according to the Catholic charity, Caritas.

The official poverty line was set in 2004 at SFr2,480 ($2,099) for a single person residing in Switzerland. For couples with two children it is SFr4,600.

Most recently concerns have been raised about the number of young people falling into the poverty trap. Figures from 2005 show that almost 45 per cent of those receiving social aid were people under the age of 25.

More development aid

NGOs also used the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which is held annually on October 17 around the world, to call on Switzerland to increase its development aid to 0.7 per cent of gross national product (GNP).

This is the figure set out in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which are aimed at eradicating poverty by 2015. Currently Switzerland's contribution stands at 0.4 per cent.

"It's important for Switzerland to show solidarity," said Calmy-Rey, adding that the government would be reassessing its development strategy next year.

Earlier this year Switzerland was told by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that it should seek to increase its contribution.

It said the Swiss figure of 0.4 per cent of GNP in 2005 was 0.03 per cent below the average of the 22 member countries that make up the OECD's Development Assistance Committee (DAC).

For his part, ATD Fourth World Switzerland President Hans-Peter Furrer said it had been essential to start a dialogue with the Swiss president on the topic of poverty.

Raising awareness

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty was recognised by the United Nations in 1992.

Last year, under the banner "Stand Up and Speak Out", 23.5 million people in 100 countries worldwide stood up against poverty over a period of 24 hours, resulting in a world record.

This year organisers are hoping to break the record as a way of reminding governments to honour their commitments to the Development Goals.

In Switzerland white bands, the symbol of the day, were unfurled in several Swiss cities for the first time. Solidarity marches were also held across the country.

"We want to draw attention to the ever-widening gap between poverty and wealth," said Pepo Hofstetter of one of the organising NGOs, Alliance Sud.

swissinfo with agencies

0.7% - Together Against Poverty

The "0.7% - Together Against Poverty" campaign is made up of around 60 Swiss non-governmental organisations and charities.

The group has launched a petition calling on the government and parliament to increase Switzerland's development aid to 0.7 per cent of GNP by 2015.

It says the extra funds should go towards achieving the UN Millennium Goals. According to the campaign, around 50,000 people have signed the petition so far.

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UN youth delegate

The International Day against Poverty was also marked at the United Nations in New York, in the US, where Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon led delegates and staff members in reciting an anti-poverty pledge.

Among those involved was Adina Rom, a Swiss youth delegate at the UN. She told swissinfo that it was important for young people to be involved in the fight against poverty and to take on responsibility.

The 22-year-old is one of three Swiss youth delegates at the UN under the government-supported Youth Rep programme. They are currently participating in the General Assembly.

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