Lifestyles of the West Have to Change, Says Vatican Aide

Archbishop Martino Views Upcoming Summit on World Development

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 23, 2002 ( The road to the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development hasn’t been smooth.

At the preparatory meeting held in Indonesia last June, for instance, one-fourth of the working document was left in brackets, reflecting a lack of consensus among countries.

Archbishop Renato Martino, permanent observer of the Vatican to the United Nations, who will head the Holy See’s delegation at the meeting, explained the importance of the summit in this Vatican Radio interview. The summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, runs Aug. 26-Sept. 4.

Q: Why doesn’t the world come to an agreement to address such important questions?

Archbishop Martino: The conference … will continue one day beyond the calendar, to see if an agreement can be reached, but the main topic of this conference is always the same: eradication of poverty, overcoming the existing gap between rich countries and poor countries.

If we in the developed world do not begin to think about modifying our standards of life and, at the same time, try to help the poor countries, we will continue to hold conferences with minimal results.

When we see that 15% of the world’s population — the rich — consume 56% of the earth’s resources, while 40% — the poor countries — are condemned to consume only 11%; when an individual in the developed world consumes almost 7 tons of oil, while his brother in developing countries consumes 10 times less … then one understands how lifestyles differ.

There are 11 million children in the world who die every year from illnesses that are easily cured, such as diarrhea or respiratory ailments, and there are 325 million children who do not go to school. These are problems that must be resolved once and for all.

Q: You point a finger at lifestyles assumed by the Western world. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] has asked that these lifestyles not be exported to developing countries, because they would cause enormous damage to the environment …

Archbishop Martino: Of course. Unfortunately, it is what is most easily exported and it could be corrected if the example started, precisely, with the developed countries.

Now, the reluctance on the part of all rich countries to increase from 0.5% to 0.7% the contribution of their gross national product to development has been one of the causes of the lack of complete success of the conferences that have preceded that of Johannesburg, such as that of Doha, of Monterrey in March, and of FAO in June in Rome.

Q: Will Johannesburg be another lost occasion?

Archbishop Martino: No, I hope not. This is really the opportunity when all should roll up their sleeves and begin this new world development, sustainable development. Awareness must grow that we cannot use and abuse creation with indiscriminate gas emissions. …

We can observe this toxic cloud of more than 16 square kilometers that hovers over Asia. When we see that every year an area of forest is destroyed that is four times greater than Switzerland, then we must ask ourselves: «When will we put an end to this waste?»

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