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Controversy reigns high at the World Summit

The recently concluded World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) was dogged by controversy as some of the resolutions passed are not tenable especially for developing countries.
Francis Rangoajane

"For the affluent North, sustainable development at its most basic, means finding a less destructive way of maintaining and increasing the greatest accumulation of wealth in history. For the South, it is different. It is more likely to mean giving a man a chance to own two good shirts and a digging fork and the money to buy a kilogram of rice. It is about listening to the cry of the distressed masses: "Help us to sustain ourselves and then we can sustain our countries and the world," said the Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase during the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Qarase's statement demonstrates the huge economical difference between the countries of the North and the South. As he delivered his emotional speech inside the Convention Centre, a protestor outside said "Even if the South Africa government gives us R100 [US$10] per month, it does not matter, at least we will have something to buy grocery." The statements by the two persons of different nationalities and status, yet with a single cry signal the desperate situation within which the peoples of the countries of the South languish. If this situation is not addressed, chances for the world to achieve sustainable development are rather bleak.

It can be said that the world at large understood this situation very well as evidenced by the motto of the WSSD- "People, Planet and Prosperity". The understanding was that in order to save the planet and strive for prosperity, the world must first eradicate all ailments that hound humanity and threaten the planet. At the top of that list of ailments will be poverty as the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Myanmar, Win Aung, observes "We fully recognize the fact that sustainable development cannot be achieved without addressing effectively the problem of poverty in the developing nations. Throughout the world we will find that countries with lack of access to safe water and sanitation, adequate health care, housing and energy are facing declining environmental situation. Therefore, in our pursuit for sustainable development, first priority should be given to alleviating poverty."

The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, went even further "We know the problems. A child in Africa dies every three seconds from famine, disease or conflict. If climate change is not stopped, all parts of the world will suffer, some will be destroyed. We know the solution: sustainable development. The issue is political."

As a result, Paragraph 15 and 16 of the Summit Political Declaration notes: "The most pressing challenges of our time remain poverty, underdevelopment, environmental degradation and socio-economic inequalities within and among countries. We recognize that poverty eradication, changing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, and protecting and managing resource base for the sustenance of life, social and economic development are overarching objectives of, and essential requirements for, sustainable development."

However, even though everybody agreed that poverty eradication was the starting point on the road to sustainable development, poverty eradication was not one of the five items on UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan 's list of items which the Summit had to agree on time-bound namely water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity.

The best that one can get from the Summit Plan of Implementation is Article 6a and b: "Eradicating poverty is the greatest challenge facing the world today and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, particularly for developing countries…Halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of the world's people whose income is less than US$1 a day and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger and, by the same year date, to halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water. Establish a solidarity fund to eradicate poverty of the world's poverty and to promote social and human development in the developing countries pursuant to modalities to be determined by the General Assembly."

In its statement, the African Civil Society Group said: "We refuse to be used as the dumping ground for contaminated food, rejected by the Northern countries, and we are enraged by the emotional blackmail of vulnerable people in need, being used in this way".

"In the face of famine, several governments in Southern Africa have prevented critical US food assistance from being distributed to the hungry by rejecting biotech corn, which has been eaten safely around the world since 1995," was US Secretary of State, Colin Powell's reaction to this sentiment. The solution or acceptance of Genetically modified (GM) foods lies in the statement of South African Trade and Industry Minister Alexandre Irwin who said genetically modified crops are a giant step in agricultural development but developing countries need background information involved in the whole process. This was also reiterated by the NGOs. Fred Kalibwani, a farmer from Kenya said he is worried about these kinds, which he claims can lead to sterility.

The Participatory Ecological Land Use Management Association [PELUM] Director said some of the seeds from do not germinate, which might lead to more crop failure and consequently starvation. He feared that these kinds of crops can be used by terrorist groups to spread famine across the globe. As a result, with Secretary Powell having failed to provide any background information with this regard, the fear, skepticism and rejection of GM foods is not likely to be resolved soon but in the mean time it is the poor masses who will suffer since no other alternative was brought to the table at the Summit.

Climate change due to global warming was another concern which remained unsolved despite the fact that small island nations demonstrated the danger they are facing. The need for immediate action to combat global warming and desertification and its importance to a safe planet was observed by everybody including Minister Jaume Palou of Spain.

"Fighting against climate change as well as other forms of environmental deterioration is both a challenge and an opportunity. It is a necessity to mitigate the adverse consequences of climate change such as desertification, the increase of sea level and the recurrence of extreme meteorological events. Anything we invest and any effort we make to fight against global environmental degradation is an investment in our future and an assurance for future generations." President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda went further to point out: "The other danger to sustainable development is the greed and insensitivity of the consumer societies of the OECD countries. 68.4 per cent [1990] of the greenhouse gases are generated in these countries. If you add figures for Russian Federation, 17 per cent, the total will be 86 per cent. It is these gases that are responsible for the warming of the globe. This irresponsible parasitism must stop."

In the face of the danger that small island nations are faced with, the two Articles fail to set time-bound on industrialized nations, which President Museveni pointed out that they produce 86 per cent of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, to reduce the emission of these gases and put into effect the Kyoto Protocol. The question is how does one adapt to sea level rise, by building taller buildings? And what would one do for land that is necessary for human survival?

Article 37d instead puts pressure on developing countries "Improve access by developing countries to affordable, accessible, cost-effective, safe and environmentally sound alternatives to ozone-depleting substances by 2010, and assist them in complying with the phase-out schedule under the Montreal Protocol, bearing in mind that ozone depletion and climate change are scientifically and technically interrelated." This Article gives an impression that the developing countries are culprits as far as ozone-depleting is concerned.

What the North and South, agreed upon was the need for partnership like NEPAD. Almost everybody in the West supported it. However, there are reservations with regard to NEPAD from activists in Africa. They see it as a way of colonisation in which the countries of Africa will still have to go back to the countries in the North to beg for money. According to Kalibwani, NEPAD has already asked for US$40 billion from the West to kick-start the initiative. Kalibwani said to show that the initiative will stand by itself and benefit Africa, NEPAD should have raised at least US$20 billion and asked for only US$40 billion.

The other burning issue that might subject NEPAD to the arm-twisting of the West is the question of democracy in individual countries. There has been too much emphasis put on good governance and rule of law at the World Summit on Sustainable Development with the West making it clear that sustainable development cannot be achieved without the two. This undoubtedly means that African Union will be pressurized to ensure that there is both democracy and rule of law before the entire budget is released or it might come with some strings attached to it.

Whether the leaders of the world, especially Africa, will implement successfully the 2002 World Summit Plan of Implementation or whether NEPAD will relieve the sufferings of Africa remains to be seen. So far, activists blame African leaders for the continent's problems. In his article George Ayittey said: "Why is Africa in this state? 'Externalists' ascribe Africa's woes to factors beyond its control: Western colonialism and imperialism, the slave trade, racist plots, avaricious multinationals, an unjust international economic system, inadequate flows of foreign aid and deteriorating terms of trade. 'Internalists' blame local system of governance: excessive state intervention and corruption at all levels, from the police and judiciary to the highest branches.

Already the South African President is alleged to have spent US$50 million to purchase a new jet and upgrade an old one. But Mbeki is not the only leader in this region faced with famine or is said to have spent millions on comfort. King Mswati II of Swaziland is said to have forked out US$35 million to buy a jet as well. The question is, if these allegations are true, how much will the US$60 billion requested by NEPAD be put in use to develop Africa?

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