Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Lesley-Anne Knight reports from the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland…

Day One at Davos and I am not surprised that many participants are preoccupied by the possibility of recession in the USA – this is after all an economic forum. I am, however, pleasantly surprised to find that issues more relevant to CI, such as poverty reduction and climate change have not entirely slipped off the agenda.

The day begins with a series of ‘update’ sessions and I choose to attend one entitled ‘Africa’s Governance Dividend’. Panel members presented an upbeat, optimistic view of Africa’s development and governance progress, which was attributed in part to the ability of African countries to learn from past failures.

Contributors from the floor raised some challenging questions including the issue of inequality and the need to move developing countries further up the value chain.

Later in the day came the opening ceremony for the Forum, which featured opening remarks by the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Rajendra K Pachauri. I was pleased to hear Rajendra Pachauri highlight the implications of climate change for the world’s poorest people, in relation to water stress, food security, nutrition, disease and natural disasters caused by changing weather conditions.

The Opening Address for the Forum was given by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who spoke about America’s “optimism and ideals”. She did, however, have something to say on poverty, describing levels of deprivation in parts of Africa as “not acceptable in a civilized world”. She acknowledged that richer countries had not been good at assuring those who had lost out as a result of globalization that there was “a place for them”.

I was pleased to hear her say that if there was one thing she could focus on in the fight against poverty it would be the empowerment of women, citing the benefits that can derive from providing education to women in developing countries.

The Secretary of State made much of her country’s contribution towards development aid but I am disappointed that the US is still way below the 0.7% of Gross National Income target and seems reluctant to firmly commit to the Millennium Development Goals.

The theme of the MDGs was taken up by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is a co-chairman of the Forum.

“People will be concerned about the economic situation of course, but I think the action points at the end of the week will be focused on the Millennium Development Goals, climate change and the Middle East,” he said.

Caritas Internationalis

President: Cardinal Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle
Secretary General: Michel Roy

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