U.N. summit on poverty opens today


LONDON -- In the last two years, the United Nations has held two huge human development conferences, on human rights in Vienna, Austria, and population problems in Cairo, Egypt. Now comes the third of the series: the World Summit on Social Development.

Opening today in Copenhagen, Denmark, it will attract several thousand delegates, 3,000 nongovernmental organizations and, on its final two days Saturday and Sunday, an expected 130 heads of state or government. It is billed as the biggest U.N. conference ever.

The United Nations is spending an estimated $3 million on the Copenhagen conference, whose broad themes will be alleviating poverty, creating jobs, and enhancing social integration of different races, language and ethnic groups, religions and social classes. The Danish government will spend $30 million.

Is it worth it? Will any of the world's 1 billion people living in poverty be better off because of the conference?

Critics are complaining that this is yet another example of the U.N. penchant for wasting money on trying to resolve world problems with bloated international conferences that tackle too many themes.

President Clinton, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and British Prime Minister John Major will be among the absent.

Vice President Al Gore will head the U.S. delegation.

The summit is expected to result in a 125-page Action Plan for dealing with everything from unemployment to domestic violence to debt relief for poor countries.

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