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Sunday, 25 August, 2002, 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK
Summit diary: Lost in Jozi
Stalls at the summit
One problem is the sheer amount of information

The World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg is being followed by Alex Kirby for BBC News Online. In the first of his reports he describes the confusion at the venue ahead of the opening on 26 August.

I think it's Sunday, which means the summit - the WSSD, as it's known to international globetrotters and bemused Johannesburgers alike - is almost upon us.

About time too, according to those who still think it may achieve something.


The only snag [with the summit guides] is that they have no idea where anything is

"Why bother?" ask the sceptics who wrote it off months ago as a monumental vanity.

Me? I just want to survive.

It's not really Johannesburg's reputation for violence that worries me (the first delegate reported mugged, a Romanian robbed of his watch and $70, said valiantly he hadn't wanted his assailant charged because muggers were the very people who needed the summit's help).

I am much more concerned right now about finding my way round the conference centre, a prime enclave in Sandton, part of up-market Johannesburg that has been declared UN territory for the duration.

You can hardly move a yard without being hailed by one of the summit guides, beaming with bonhomie and looking quite stunning in their specially tailored uniforms.

Unfailingly friendly, they are desperate to help.

The only snag is that they have no idea where anything is.

After 48 hours here I thought I knew my way around better than they did.

Information overload

I had found the quickest ways in and out of the media centre.

I was a happy, if heavily laden, little bunny as I skipped along with my BBC laptop and half a ton of documents beneath the African sun (and moon).


The Rio earth summit was never like this: We had a few facts, we made the most of them and then we shut up

But The System has beaten me.

The next time I arrived in Sandton I was sent on an endless detour by a succession of scrupulously polite but extremely firm police officers.

I must have circled the media centre three times before actually managing to enter it.

I foresee a battle of wills - and I am quite seriously outnumbered.

The other problem is the sheer amount of information pouring in, mostly by e-mail, a distressingly large amount binned unread.

The Rio earth summit was never like this: We had a few facts, we made the most of them and then we shut up.

I am afraid this summit has a life of its own, each message spawning generations of new data gobbets, each generation more fact-lite and gossip-laden than its parents.

I think probably there is nobody here, or anywhere else, who knows all that is happening.

And perhaps that is why not much is expected to.

Good for some

But for many of the people of Jozi, as the city is often called, there is a silver lining.

One newspaper advertisement was placed by Amor, a "barely mature trisexual suffering from severe sexual starvation".

And one of Amor's co-workers said she was preparing for "a very, very busy two weeks" by getting as much sleep as possible.

I bet they know their way around.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Hilary Andersson in Johannesburg
"They think the summit represents the interests of big business"

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See also:

25 Aug 02 | Politics
23 Aug 02 | Science/Nature
22 Aug 02 | Africa
06 Aug 02 | Africa
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