UNEP held hostage by USA, UK and Spain

G-77 concerned about UNEP's waning budget

Nairobi, Feb 21 (G-77/IPS) - The Nairobi chapter of the Group of 77 has expressed concern over the declining funds of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

The fall in funding has been made worse by a threat by three countries— the U.S., Britain and Spain— to withhold contributions until UNEP undergoes a radical restructuring.

Western nations made it clear that they wanted to reshape UNEP according to their visions and priorities.

At the 19th session of UNEP’s Governing Council (Jan 27-Feb 7) Britain, Spain and the United States declared that they would withhold their contributions. The United states was the most vociferous in the demands for change and declared that UNEP had to be reinvented, or face extinction.

‘Today, UNEP suffers from a loss of focus, strategic vision and influence. Instead of doing a limited number of things effectively, its work plan is disjointed and lacks clear priorities’’ charged the Assistant Secretary of State, Eileen Laussen, who led the US delegation.

The meeting subsequently came up with the Nairobi declaration on UNEP’s future role and mandate, its programme work for 1998/99 and a programme budget of $75 million.

Funds have been dwindling, from $160 million in 1991/92, to $105 million up to 1995. The budget for 1996/97 is down to $62.5 million.

‘’The unfolding trend is a sad situation, all indications point to a steady reduction in the UNEP budget, and in spite of our political clout there is very little we can do in matters concerning finances’’ says Dr German Garcia-Duran, the outgoing chairman of the G-77 Nairobi Chapter.

He told IPS that UNEP needed more funds to take care of the rapid changes currently taking place in the world and the increasingly complexity and fragmentation of the institutional responses to these changes.

‘’Developing countries, particularly the least developed countries need more money for sustainable development which encompasses economic, social and environmental dimensions, supported by capacity-building, transfer of technology and financial resources’’ he added.

The push to reform UNEP is part of the drive led by the United States for a complete overhaul of the United Nations. A leaner and thinner UN system is needed to better serve the cause for world peace and development, according to US critics.

Those agencies that do not downsize their staff and programmes face financial starvation. (In Rome, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced a series of reforms it hoped would appease the United States which owes FAO more than $187 million in outstanding contributions.)

Representatives of developing world have accused the agency’s critics of condemning it to a slow death and UNEP’s executive director, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, said the agency’s problems were mainly due to constant budget cuts and lack of political support rather than bad management.