Former President Clinton opens annual conference, warns of natural disasters and poor economy

By Beth Fouhy, AP
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bill Clinton: Economy, disasters imperil millions

NEW YORK — Former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday warned of the growing devastation of the global economic downturn and said the dangers posed by natural disasters around the world had been increased by the effects of climate change.

The former president spoke in New York on the first day of the annual Clinton Global Initiative. The conference brings together leaders from government, business and philanthropy, who make financial commitments aimed at tackling poverty and disease around the world.

Clinton announced new financial commitments to help Haiti recover from the effects of a massive earthquake last January, and to Pakistan, where monsoon rains led to deadly flooding last summer. He also announced a new program to help Louisiana’s gulf coast, which is still recovering from the massive oil spill and the effects of Hurricane Katrina five years ago.

Clinton said the gulf region had been hit by “everything but a plague of locusts” and said climate change had made events like hurricanes and flooding more frequent and deadly.

“There is every reason to believe the incident of economically devastating natural disasters will accelerate around the world with he changing of the climate,” Clinton said, urging governments and world leaders to be better prepared for such events.

Clinton also pressed attendees on the need to educate and empower women and girls in developing countries, saying the global economy would improve with women’s full participation.

“There are still a lot of places in this world where women are part human and part property and where men define their meaning in life,” Clinton said.

The former president’s wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, was also attending the conference and planned to focus on issues connected to women and girls.

She was to help launch a program to address chronic malnutrition blamed for 3.5 million maternal and child deaths a year. The program is co-sponsored by the Irish government and focuses on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, during which nutrition is critical to mental and physical development.

Hillary Clinton was also expected to announce a U.S. contribution to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves that promotes the use of cleaner and more efficient cooking materials. Exposure to pollution from traditional indoor stoves and fires causes diseases that kill nearly 2 million in the developing world annually, mostly children and young women.

Bill Clinton largely steered clear of politics in his remarks, but said at one point he wished more world leaders made their decisions based on facts.

“Do you know how many political and economic decisions are made in this world by people who don’t know what in the living daylights they are talking about?” Clinton said.

Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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