G-77 urges governments to pay up their dues to UNEP

NAIROBI, March -- The financial crisis facing the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) is a matter of concern that requires urgent attention, according to environment ministers, mostly from the Group of 77 (G-77) nations.

The ministers, who met here in early March, urged UNEP member governments to pay up their contributions as early as possible so as to save the Nairobi-based U.N. agency from collapsing.

''If governments want UNEP to regain a high profile and do what is expected of us, they must be ready to provide predictable and growing financial resources,'' said Dr. Klaus Topfer of Germany, the new UNEP Executive Director.

Topfer said much of UNEP's ability to carry out its mandate and responsibilities hinges on the level of resources available.

''There are many areas in which UNEP could improve its profile but given the financial situation, chances of improving UNEP's profile are very slim,'' he said, adding that ''the future financing of UNEP is a matter of great urgency and high priority.''

At a meeting held here last year, the ministers had approved the sum of 137.5 million US dollars for funding UNEP activities.

''If the total contribution for 1998-99 remains at about the projected level of approximately 87.6 million dollars, then substantial parts of UNEP's work programme, already agreed on by the member states, cannot be implemented,'' said Topfer.

''UNEP has been facing financial crisis due to lack of commitment of its member countries to honour their pledges,'' said Sid Ali Kentrandji, Algeria's Ambassador to Kenya, who is also the Chairman of the G- 77 Nairobi Chapter for 1997. ''This hampers the implementation of programmes at UNEP.''

Kentrandji, who is also Algeria's Permanent Representative to UNEP, said that to resolve the crisis, a 36-member high-level committee of Ministers and Officials formed here last year will impress upon member states to fulfill their financial pledges.

''With the committee in operation, developed countries won't have any excuses to withhold their contributions,'' argued Kentrandji, the outgoing Chairman of G-77 in Nairobi.

The G-77 Group said it was opposed to the idea of the private sector and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) stepping in to bail out UNEP from its financial crisis.

They said such a move would not solve the agency's problems. Instead, they stressed the need for pledges to be honoured and dues to be paid on time.

The financial crisis facing UNEP has been going on for several years. Last year, the G-77 members, for example, expressed concern over the cut in UNEP's budget from 90 million US Dollars to 45 million dollars per annum.

''We are deeply disappointed over the drastic reduction in the budget of UNEP for the biennial 1996-97 which threatens to adversely impact on the ability of the agency to meet the demands for quantative and qualitative enhancement of its activities. We, therefore, call upon all member states, particularly the developed countries, to substantially increase their financial contributions to the UNEP budget,'' according to a document prepared by the G-77.

One year on, the situation hasn't changed. Topfer said that if contributions did not rise by at least some 20 percent, significant parts of the agreed programme of work would not be implemented. ''Otherwise we would be facing a very, very dramatic situation with regard to our cash flow,'' the UNEP head said.

He said UNEP had achieved much in the past 25 years of its existence, with help and support from member states and their permanent representatives. ''The world looks at us and expects us to address the environmental issues of pressing importance at the present time,'' added Topfer.

One of the crises which UNEP is currently battling to contain is the forest fires in South East Asia. ''These forest fires threaten a serious economic and environmental fallout across the entire region,'' Topfer said. ''They pose a tremendous risk to human health. Satellite photos prove about 1000 fires are burning now in East Kalimantang.
Last year, these bushfires had sent a choking smoke over much of South East Asia and they threaten to do so again this year with even greater destructive impact, he concluded.