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Germany

Grappling with Global Poverty

The United Nations has pledged to halve extreme global poverty by the year 2015. The German government has contributed by establishing a forum "Dialogforum 2015", which held its first conference in Berlin on Tuesday.

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Extreme poverty leads to malnourishment

It's an ambitious goal. To raise the living standards of at least 50 percent of some 1,2 billion people around the world, who don't know when or from where their next morsel of food is coming from.

That's what leaders and heads of state from around the world vowed to achieve by 2015 at the millennium summit of the United Nations.

Germany's share towards realising that aim took off on a shaky note on Tuesday in Berlin. More than 20 prominent personalities from the fields of politics, business, science and the media gathered together at the invitation of German Foreign Development Minister Heidemarie Wiezcorek-Zeul to discuss ways to bridge the gulf between rich and poor.

Among them were former German President Richard von Weizsäcker and television journalist Sabine Christiansen.

The forum is hoped to build up a pool of experts who would then support the German government in tackling the problem of global poverty.

Wiezcorek-Zeul defended the assembled high-profile think-tank by saying that an "alliance of members from all walks of society was indispensable" to reach the ambitious goal.

Schröder stays away

German Chancellor Schröder was marked by his absence, called away on more pressing matters. But in his speech that was read out at the conference, he gave to believe that combating international poverty was of utmost importance to him.

"The international responsibility of our country in a world that is drastically changing is bigger than ever", he would have said. "Without a farsighted policy of economic co-operation that is indispensable for our international goals of peace, development and justice, we cannot do justice to our bigger responsibility".

Many members of the forum criticised the press for not doing enough to highlight the problem of extreme poverty. They only report about the issue "when its always too late", said Richard von Weizsäcker.

Another suggestion was plucking such issues from niche middle pages and placing them on the front pages of newspapers. Wiezcorek-Zeul even pondered aloud that newspapers might consider acquiring patents to certain poor countries or cities and then report about them on a continuing basis. That recommendation received a round of applause.

Not much of substance at the conference

But though many members expressed willingness and reaffirmed their commitment to the "Action programme 2015" that the German government drew up last April, nothing substantial resulted from the first meeting of the forum.

Nothing concrete was said about the ways or even the financial means of helping 1,2 billion people around the world out of their squalor.

The United Nations had called on richer countries to give 0.7 percent of their GDP to developing countries. But at the end of the conference, it still remained unclear whether the German government would honour that commitment.

The message that development policy so far would now translate into economic policy was not driven home too hard either.

There were no members of important non-governmental groups that have long experience in countering poverty and hunger. And there was no mention either of critics of globalisation such as the group "attac", that has now been accepted as an expert on the differences between free and fair trade.

But the conference, the first in a series of 13 such planned conferences till the year 2015, did contain some "stirring speeches" and "speeches that led to courage" in the words of Heidemarie Wiezcorek-Zeul.

She even promised that the German Chancellor would be present at next year's conference of the "Dialogforum 2015".