Iran: Capitalism fuels poverty

2010-09-22 13:26

New York - Iran's president on Tuesday predicted the defeat of capitalism and blamed global big business for the suffering of millions, while Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel said market economies were key to lifting the world's least developed countries out of poverty.

The clash of visions at the UN anti-poverty summit drew a line under the stark differences on easing the misery of the one billion people living on less than $1.25 a day.

More than 140 presidents, prime ministers and kings are attending the three-day summit which started on Monday to assess and spur on achievement of UN targets set by world leaders in 2000.

The plan called for an intensive global campaign to ease poverty, disease and inequalities between rich and poor by 2015.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, never mentioned the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in his speech to the 192-member General Assembly.

Instead, he took aim at capitalism and called for the overhaul of "undemocratic and unjust" global decision-making bodies, which are dominated by the US and other Western powers.

New world order

While Ahmadinejad didn't single out any country, he said world leaders, thinkers and global reformers should "spare no effort" to make practical plans for a new world order.

"It is my firm belief that in the new millennium, we need to revert to the divine mindset...based on the justice-seeking nature of mankind, and on the monotheistic world view...," the Iranian leader said in a brief speech intertwining philosophy and religion with the current state of the world. "Now that the discriminatory order of capitalism and the hegemonic approaches are facing defeat."

Ahmadinejad proposed that the UN name the coming 10 years "the decade for the joint global governance".

Soon afterward, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the world's fourth-largest economic power, took an opposite tack, likely speaking for the rest of the capitalist world.

Stressing that "the primary responsibility for development lies with the governments of the developing countries”, she said the key to economic prosperity was good governance and a flourishing capitalist economy.

"The countries themselves must promote the development of a market economy...for without self-sustaining economic growth developing countries will find the road out of poverty and hunger too steep to travel," Merkel said.

Good governance

The German leader said international assistance can't substitute for domestic resources, warned that "development aid cannot continue indefinitely" and declared that "support for good governance is as important as aid itself".

Oxfam, one of the world's most respect aid organisations, slammed Merkel's address. Spokesperson Emma Seery said more had been expected from the Germans, who "failed to explain how they will meet their promises of aid to poor countries, and sidestepped their responsibility to make aid work by laying this at the door of the poorest countries".

Seery also chided the German leader for not joining with France and Spain in calling for a small tax on financial transactions that would go to meet development needs of poor countries. "Whether Germany can still claim to be a development leader is now questionable," she said in an unusually blunt assessment of a government leader's address.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said the world is "on track" to cut extreme poverty by half, the number one, though some critics say it's mainly because of the big strides in China and India.

Many recent reports show that the world's poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, have made little progress in eradicating poverty.

And in Africa, Asia and Latin America there also has been a lack of progress in meeting other key goals: reducing mother and child deaths, increasing the number of people with access to basic sanitation, and promoting women's equality.

New initiative

Ban is expected to launch a new initiative on Wednesday to spur action on improving the lot of women and children.

In his speech, Ahmadinejad did not mention Iran's nuclear program or the four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions over Tehran's refusal to prove it is not trying to build a nuclear weapon.

Iran claims it is only working on nuclear power to generate electricity.

The subject may be raised again on Thursday when the General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting begins.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov raised the sanctions issue in his speech, saying UN sanctions were not intended to harm ordinary civilians. He voiced "serious concern" at additional sanctions imposed by individual countries.

The criticism appeared aimed at the US, the European Union, Australia, Canada, Japan and South Korea, all of whom have imposed their own much tougher sanctions on Tehran.

"We are convinced that such practice contradicts the efforts to achieve the MDGs and must be brought to an end," Lavrov said.

Information and communication technology

To counter these threats, Lavrov said Russia was ready to help with information and communication technology "to bridge the gap between the developed and developing countries and - as a result - to promote global development."

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, one of the world's poorest nations that has made progress because of the goals, said Africa "still has far to go" but if efforts are intensified "we will, ultimately, achieve them".

"My message is this: As we renew our resolve in 2010, we must recognise the need for inclusive economic growth. We need rapid, stable, and sustained growth that creates jobs, especially for youth and in sectors that benefit the poor, and expands opportunities for women," she said.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said until a few years ago his country was on track to achieve a number of the MDGs, but the fight against terrorism and the recent unprecedented flooding "have changed almost everything".

The MDGs remain "the centrepiece" of Pakistan's development program, he said, but the rehabilitation of flood-ravaged areas will cost billions and will impact economic recovery and achievement of the UN goals.

At events on the sidelines of the summit, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched a programme to address chronic malnutrition blamed for 3.5 million maternal and child deaths a year.

The programme, co-sponsored by the Irish government, focuses on the first 1 000 days of a child's life, during which nutrition is critical to mental and physical development.

Later, Clinton helped launch a new programme to place cleaner cooking stoves in 100 million homes by 2020. She said unsafe stoves expose as many as three billion people to toxic chemicals and smoke, and upgrading them can save and improve "millions of lives".