Switzerland calls for tougher action on global poverty

The Swiss Development Agency is involved in a number of overseas aid projects Keystone Archive

Switzerland is leading efforts to persuade rich countries to cut the debt burden of the world's poorest nations at a United Nations conference underway in Brussels.

This content was published on May 14, 2001 minutes

The week-long conference, which ends on Sunday, is focusing on ways to relieve the burden of debt in the 45 poorest nations in the world. Topics slated for discussion include ways of reducing and managing debts and the possibility of opening up the markets of industrialised nations to more developing countries.

Switzerland, represented at the conference by a joint delegation from the Swiss Development Agency (SDA) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, intends to take a leading role in persuading other developed nations to commit themselves to the search for a reduction in global poverty.

The aim of the conference, the third of its kind in as many years, is to establish an international plan of action which sets "realistic objectives" for the development of LDCs.

The promotion of education and the basic human right of access to clean drinking water are areas which the Swiss delegation is keen to stress at the conference, says SDA deputy director, Jean-François Giovannini.

The problem, argues the SDA, is that the level of debt in many of the developing countries is so high that all available money goes into paying back the cost of loans, leaving little or no resources for the development of a basic infrastructure in the fields of education and health services.

In an interview with swissinfo, Giovannini said that while many countries agree in principle with debt relief programmes instigated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, large industrialised nations find it difficult to give appropriate financing support.

"It's usually the smaller nations which contribute more than larger ones. The G7 countries should follow the lead of smaller nations like Switzerland and the Scandanavian countries."

A number of LDCs already receive aid assistance from Switzerland, but Giovannini warns that Switzerland's resources are not inexhaustible and countries to which aid is offered must show themselves ready to take on the challenge of helping themselves.

"The countries should be open and willing to undertake the efforts for their own development," said Giovannini. "We can't be everywhere at the same time, so in order to be efficient we have to restrict our programmes to about 20 countries worldwide."

Walter Fust, who as head of the agency is leading the Swiss delegation to Brussels, has called on the international community to do all it can to fight poverty in the developing world.

"These 49 countries are the poorest in the world," said Fust, "more often than not because they are isolated, mountainous or located in remote desert regions.

"They face seemingly insurmountable difficulties, and it is clear that the international community must act with greater resolve to give these countries a chance of finding a way out of the rut."

Most of the 641 million inhabitants of LDCs, says the SDA, live on less than $2 per day, while basic per capita income has not increased in the past two decades. These facts alone, the Swiss delegation insists, should provide enough impetus for the international community to agree to work together.

The failure of previous high-level multilateral talks to turn words into action, Giovannini admits, has set back progress in the least-developed countries by many years.

"I must say that in the last 20 years we decided on action programmes that were never really implemented," Giovannini told swissinfo.

"I think now it's time to stop just talking and get down to action. Nothing is going to happen overnight, this situation will last for perhaps half a century, but we must get started and achieve a lot more than we have in the last 10 years."

swissinfo with agencies

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