WHEN, 20 years ago, the Russians played fiscal politics at the UN and refused to pay their share for peacekeeping operations, US President Johnson condemned them. Now the Reagan Government is playing the same game — insisting on deciding unilaterally which UN programmes it will pay for and which it won’t.
Moscow’s main target was, and continues to be, certain UN peacekeeping operations; Washington’s target is now the recently signed International Treaty on the Law of the Sea (LoS). The result is an erosion of the concept of collective responsibility for financing UN activities and the hold-back of funds has contributed to the UN’s present financial crisis.
Present UN spending is budgeted at about $700 million a year. How much each UN member country contributes is based on ability to pay — taking into consideration national income, population and availability of foreign exchange.
Almost exactly half, or 78, of the UN’s members pay the minimum budgetary assessment of 0.01 per cent, amounting to about $70,000 a year at the current spending level. The US. assessed at 25 per cent, or about $175 million annually, is the largest contributor.
With the exception of South Africa, all member states pay the bulk of their regular UN assessments — usually in full. South Africa suspended payments after it lost its General Assembly voting rights in 1974.
Reagan has insisted that the UN decision on the LoS was not legally binding and announced that the US would not pay its assessed share for financing the preparatory commission. As public expenditures go, the withheld sum is modest. But what has shaken diplomats is the unaccustomed and blatant American disregard of UN majority decisions. At the root of the Reagan stand is a refusal to put restraints on the exploitation by American mining companies of the seabed’s mineral riches (see N.I. No 123).
For a variety of reasons, at least 15 other countries are withholding a total of some S85 million from the regular budget. Even before Reagan announced his refusal to pay for the LoS activities, the Americans were being dunned for $612,000 withheld from the regular budget. Most of that sum stemmed from the US refusal to pay for activities supportive of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and South-West Africa People’s Organisation.
Moscow’s regular budget debt, however, is far and away the greatest: $42.8 million. Of that amount, $22.2 million is related to the previous dispute and $16.1 million for the regular programme of technical assistance. The Russians have long complained that the UN does not spend Moscow’s rouble contributions or use its experts sufficiently in carrying out Third World development programmes.
Drastic slashes are now certain for UN projects such as those of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN’s central aid-funding agency. UNDP already has announced a 40 per cent cutback in spending, virtually all of it affecting planned agricultural, industrial, infrastructural and educational projects in African, Asian and Latin American countries.
The tragedy is that the fiscal crisis stems less from the recalcitrant members inability to pay than from their refusal to — for purely political or ideological reasons.
FEMALE circumcision has produced some heated exchanges recently between Western feminists and their sisters in developing countries. Westerners generally respond to the issue with moral outrage — a reaction which, according to many African women, can do more harm than good and further obscure a very complex issue.
‘People must move forward from their initial horror to a deeper understanding of the problem,’ says Efua Graham. a Ghanaian living in London who has been campaigning against the practice. ‘What does it mean to the women involved? And why have they been unable to stop it themselves?’
The pain that the operation produces. she points out, is not specially significant to those who experience daily the pain of hunger and overwork. And concepts like the ‘suppression of female sexuality’, used by Western feminists, mean very little in the lives of African women.
The real problem, says Efua, is under-development. People dare not question traditional customs when community support is the only means of survival. Greater efforts to fight overall poverty would also strike at the roots of this practice. ‘Many African women,’ she adds, ‘resent female circumcision being taken out of this context.
That is not to say, however, that people should keep quiet. Bringing the subject out into the open can be very helpful. Many African and Arab women, for example, are shocked when they find themselves involved in discussions of ’genital mutilation’ at international gatherings. They themselves may have experienced the mildest form of circumcision, but because the issue has been very little discussed they have simply not been aware of more drastic operations going on elsewhere.
Efua Graham believes that Western women can play a part by raising the issue —for the more it is talked about the more it will he questioned in the places where it occurs. But the initiative for abolition must come from within the practising countries themselves. And Westerners, she believes, can help most by finding funds to put behind these efforts.
Outwitting the locust
THERE has been no major locust upsurge in the last five years although suitable climatic conditions for locust breeding have developed several times. Leading UN experts in Rome believe that the world may have seen the last of this ancient scourge.
The keys to success are powerful space satellites, which are being used to monitor locust — infested areas across Asia, Africa and the Middle East in a unique experiment promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. The Landsat and Meteosat satellites of the European and US space agencies are being regularly used to relay aerial pictures of locust— infested areas to receiving stations In India, Algeria, France, Italy and the U.S. These pictures are then used to brief ground staff in 45 affected countries on latest locust movements.
A major locust plague was averted by the satellite monitoring system in 1978-79 when, following heavy rains in Ethiopia, Somalia and South-Western Arabia, explosive breeding had occured.
Prompt monitoring by satellites helped to mount an intensive campaign to control locust populations in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and North Africa.
One locust swarm can contain as many as 40 to 80 million locusts in a single square kilometre. Swarms covering a thousand square kilometres have been known to occur. Each locust eats nearly its own weight in food, which is about two grams. A large swarm of locusts, as was observed in Somalia some years back, could consume 80,000 tons of corn a day — enough to feed 400,000 people for a whole year.
‘We are regularly looking out for areas with persistent green vegetation,’ says Dr. Jan Hielkema of the FAO, ‘where the chances of locust breeding would be highest.’
Satellite monitoring eliminates the need for costly aircraft surveillance and encouraged by its success with locusts, the FAO plans to enlarge its programme to control other migratory pests like the grain-eating bird (Quelea Quelea), the Red Locust, the African Migratory locust and the African Army worm.
Maoris and pakehas
RADICAL Maori campaigner Hinengaro Davis believes she was born to struggle, whether raising her arm in a black power salute in the streets or relaxing in her modest suburban lounge.
She is typical of a group of Auckland women spear-heading the Maori campaign in New Zealand for an end to what they see as political and cultural domination by the country’s majority white population.
One in seven of New Zealand’s Maoris is out of work while one in 30 pakeha (whites) is unemployed — a situation that is helping the case against the controversial 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, which marked the annexation of New Zealand by Britain.
Police recently arrested almost 100 protesters in a military style operation in the Bay of Islands while demonstrating against the controversial treaty. Was the treaty a foundation for cultural diversity, as some historians claim, or was it an Anglocentric tool for colonisation? According to 27-year-old Davis and her fellow campaigners of the militant Waitangi Action Committee, the treaty represented the rape of their land by an alien culture.
The indigenous Maori people of New Zealand are now second-class citizens in their homeland. They make up ten per cent of the nation’s 3.1 million people, but are a disproportionately large part of the socially disadvantaged population.
But, as Auckland University researcher Claudia Orange points out, Maori protest over the treaty has been going on since after it was signed. And Sir Hepi Te Heu, paramount chief of the Ngati-tuwharetoa tribe, blames much of the trouble on discrepancies between English and Maori versions of the treaty.
The Maori version meant, he says, that Queen Victoria gave the Maori people sovereignty over their land, fisheries and all the things they treasured. The intention of the English version, says Claudia Orange, was to secure for the Crown all rights of sovereignty whatsoever over the entire territory of New Zealand. This included all necessary authority, power and jurisdicrion which is customarily associated with crown rights.
In 1840 Maoris made up the majority of New Zealand’s population and owned most of the land. Today this has been reversed. And the pakeha population has little feeling for the Mann culture which has Polynesian roots. Sir Hepi says: ‘Now we want to retain all of what little is left — and a bit more.
According to Claudia Orange, there was an element of good intent in the treaty and those who promoted it. She says: ‘It was believed at the time that New Zealand was to be an experiment in race relations — on European terms’.
However, the humanitarianism of the time was patronising. Britain cast itself as protector for the Maori people from other foreign designs — like the French and the Americans.
In reality, say the Maori activists, their people were cheated by the Waitangi Treaty and now they want their grievances to be redressed. Until that happens their struggle will become increasingly bitter.
MILLIONS of freshwater fish in Thailand have flipped their fins for the last time in the country’s worst manmade ecological disaster. According to the fisheries department the likely cause of death is pesticide poisoning.
Fish is the main source of protein for rural Thais. It is normally plentiful and cheap since people can take what they need from the rivers, streams and canals.
The fish deaths began in Suphanburi province — precisely where new methods of new cultivation are being used which call for large quantities of herbicides. Such products as paraquat and farraden have been found in the dead fish — chemicals which lower the fish’s resistance to parasitical diseases and fungi.
In the natural environment fish rarely get sick — unlike those in tanks. If one place doesn’t suit they go somewhere else. ‘But this time there was no better place to migrate.’ said Dr Sitdhi Boonyaratpalin, chief of the fish disease unit, ‘Even snail, shrimp, crab and eel were affected.’
There have been two other outbreaks of fish deaths in Thailand recently. In both cases, paraquat and dieldrin were found in high levels in the water, and in sediment and fish samples. Paraquat is a powerful weed-killer used in rubber estates and rice fields. Its use is tightly controlled in the US but it is increasingly popular in Thailand which imported 4,000,000 kilos of it in 1981 — and a half times more than in 1978.
The British manufacturer of paraquat, ICI, claims that the chemical should not get into water because it normally concentrates in and combines with the soil. But Dr Thiraphun Bhukasawan, director of the National Inland Fisheries institute, said that an ICI representative recently admitted that the paraquat marketed by ICI in Thailand and other developing countries —paraquat W — is a different formula from the paraquat sold in Europe and North America, known as paraquat S. What the difference is, ICI isn’t saying.
ICI representatives told the Thai fisheries department that they had a report from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation saying that paraquat was not toxic to fish. The fisheries department, who weren’t given the chance to look at the paper themselves, speculate that it may refer to the less dangerous paraquat S.
The only study on the long-term toxicity of paraquat. said Dr Prayoon, came from a US commercial testing laboratory and was found to be fraudulent by both the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Paraquat is probably not the only offender in the current fish deaths. Other chemicals have also been found in the various samples tested, as Thai farmers are increasingly using pesticides and herbicides. Toxic chemicals on sale in the country do carry a fine print warning, but as Dr Prayoon puts it ‘It’s certain that few read or heed them. (The farmers) don’t buy by what’s on the label. It’s what the salesman tells them: "This is good. You can mix a cocktail — three or four together".
Thai fisheries authorities want their government to test any product, drug or chemical before allowing it into the country as in done in the US. Dr Prayoon also calls for an end to companies’ advertising of pesticides, and thinks that highly toxic compounds should only be sold through the government’s own agencies. Finally he feels that Thailand should learn the lesson from the epidemic of fish deaths, and from similar experiences with toxic chemicals in other developing countries. He wants the farmers to ‘go back and use nature as a controlling agent’ — to encourage the natural predators of pests.
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