New Internationalist

School’s Out

Issue 262

new internationalist
issue 262 - December 1994

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ILLUSTRATION BY PHIL DOBSON

Few people know just how many UN agencies there are - still less whether their work is effective.
Here the NI marks the report cards of the most prominent members of the UN class.

 

FAO REPORT 1945-1994
Full name: UN Food and Agriculture Organization
Home Address: Rome
Principal: Jacques Diouf (Senegal), Director since 1994
Class Size: 6,000 employees
Allowance: $673 million (1994/5)
Record: FAO’s 50th birthday falls a few days before that of the UN as a whole, next October. The shadow of one man will loom large over the celebrations - Edouard Saouma, whose 18 years as Director recently came to an end. Saouma ruled with the iron fist of a medieval emperor - staff were required to call him ‘Your Excellency’. FAO has a worse record than any other agency. It has actually done more harm than good to people and the environment through its uncritical promotion of the Green Revolution, dangerous pesticides and its insistence that small farmers switch to cash crops instead of growing their own food. Saouma’s departure must help but FAO seems almost beyond reform.
Mark: 0/10

 

UNICEF REPORT 1946-1994
Full name: UN Children’s Fund
Home Address: New York
Principal: James Grant (US), Director since 1980
Class Size: 7,000 employees
Allowance: Income $888 million, Expenditure $972 million (1994). UNICEF is the only UN agency which receives funds direct from the general public.
Record: UNICEF has been the driving force behind the universal child immunization programme, which it claims is now saving the lives of 10,000 children a day. Its World Summit for Children in 1990 produced a treaty which should soon become the first universally ratified human-rights convention in history - and its country offices are energetically monitoring governments’ progress in meeting the goals they’ve signed up for. UNICEF is the most focussed of all the UN agencies - and the most effective. But even its strength as an institution could be endangered by the wrong choice as Director following Jim Grant’s imminent retirement (he is now 72).
Mark: 9/10

 

UNFPA REPORT 1969-1994
Full name: UN Fund for Population Activities
Home Address: New York
Principal: Nafis Sadik (Pakistan), Director since 1987
Class Size: 837 employees
Allowance: Income $219.6 million, Expenditure $215.4 million (1993)
Record: More and more women are gaining control of their fertility. While less than 10 per cent of couples in developing countries used contraception in the 1960s, 55 per cent did in 1993. But UNFPA is funded and driven by rich countries’ paranoia about population growth in the South - it has looked too kindly over the years on repressive regimes like China (with its one-child policy) and Indonesia. It has also had (on its own admission) ‘an overwhelming concern for quantitative achievements and... demographic targets’ - in other words keeping Third World numbers down. In recent years, though, partly because of its female Director, UNFPA has placed much more emphasis on women’s rights, seeing them as people needing education, equality and comprehensive health care rather than just as mothers. The recent Cairo Conference may have had to steer a course between the Vatican and Western feminism but its emphasis on women’s choice and reproductive health and choice is a big improvement on simplistic Malthusian number-crunching.
Mark: 5/10

 

UNDP REPORT 1965-1994
Full name: UN Development Programme
Home Address: New York
Principal: James Gustave Speth (US), Administrator since 1993
Class Size: 6,631 employees
Allowance: $1,426 million (1993)
Record: Even people in the development field tend to be hazy as to what UNDP actually does - and some say you could abolish it tomorrow and barely notice the difference. This is because it is a funding and co-ordinating agency with no projects of its own. Its image has been transformed by the success of the Human Development Report. Outspoken for a UN document about the need to change development policies so they meet the needs of the poor, the Report is the more remarkable for having emerged during the term of Bill Draper, a Reaganite whose main passion was for privatization. UNDP’s funding policies have barely changed, however - and its criticism of structural adjustment seems hypocritical given its close co-operation with the World Bank. New Administrator Gus Speth claims to be bringing UNDP’s funding criteria into line with the human-development principles of the Report - but then he would, wouldn’t he? UNDP needs to put its money where its mouth is.
Mark: 3/10

 

UNHCR REPORT 1951-1994
Full name: UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Home Address: Geneva
Principal: Sadako Ogata (Japan), High Commissioner since 1991.
Class Size: 3,444 employees
Allowance: Hoped-for expenditure in 1994 $1,308 million. Raised by 31 August $889.6 million. UNHCR depends on voluntary contributions from governments, which vary each year.
Record: In contrast to WHO, UNHCR has been revitalized by a change at the top. The previous High Commissioners, Messrs Hocke and Stoltenberg, had respectively been ousted due to a financial scandal and resigned after a few months. UNHCR itself was ineffectual and unfocussed. The new chief, Ms Ogata, has transformed the organization. It now responds more quickly and efficiently to refugee crises - which are now coming thicker and faster than ever - and responds to the needs of internally displaced people as well as those who have left their country. She has also raised the agency’s profile substantially - not just through public relations but also through taking up vital refugee-related issues.
Mark: 7/10

 

WHO REPORT 1948-1994
Full name: World Health Organization
Home Address: Geneva
Principal: Hiroshi Nakajima (Japan), Director since 1988
Class Size: 5,200 employees
Allowance: $1,800 million (1994/5)
Record: WHO can take credit for one of the UN’s greatest achievements – the eradication of smallpox. But it is a classic case of a UN agency which has gone off the rails because of a change of regime. Under its previous Director, Halfdan Mahler, WHO was an effective advocate of primary health care (investing in low-tech care at local level instead of hi-tech hospitals and medicine for an élite). It also campaigned for countries to use a few essential drugs rather than a plethora of expensive brand names - and the agency still contains able people doing good work to fight disease. But Mahler’s successor, Nakajima, has more or less ditched the essential drugs policy, influenced by the lobbying of the pharmaceutical industry. He is generally considered to be a disaster and even the major powers were not prepared to support his re-election in 1993. But in a dismal display of vote-buying by Nakajima and his Japanese Government backers that brought the whole UN system into disrepute, he eventually gained re-election.     
Mark: 4/10

 

ILO REPORT 1919-1994
Full name: International Labour Organization
Home Address: Geneva
Principal: Michel Hansenne (Belgium), Director-General since 1989.
Class Size: 1,254 employees
Allowance: $447 million (1994/5)
Record: 75 years old this year, ILO is often seen as the agency promoting the interests of workers worldwide. But given that it is responsible to a tripartite board comprising governments, employers’ organizations and trade unions, it is never likely to do that. The last time ILO was at the centre of things was in the late 1970s when its World Employment Programme, emerging from a major conference in 1976, threw up all kinds of creative ideas about the basic needs of the poor. Since then it has been marginalized by the dominance of the World Bank and IMF in economic matters and ILO has become an inconsequential backwater of the UN system.
Mark: 2/10

 

UNEP REPORT 1972-1994
Full name: UN Environment Programme
Home Address: Nairobi
Principal: Elizabeth Dowdeswell (Canada), Director since 1992.
Class Size: 913 employees
Allowance: $112.1 million (1993)
Record: UNEP has been one of the weakest agencies in the UN system - the surge in environmental concern worldwide cannot be attributed to its work. Previous Director Mostafa Tolba was notorious for his autocratic, almost monarchical behaviour and it is significant that the two major recent international initiatives on the environment - the Brundtland Commission and the Rio Earth Summit - were organized outside UNEP. Its most concrete achievement has been to secure an agreement that has reduced the pollution of the Mediterranean. New Director Elizabeth Dowdeswell is a technocrat who has failed as yet to raise morale or effectiveness.
Mark: 2/10

For the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) see the recent NI issue (NI 257).
Other UN agencies are:
UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization);
UNCTAD (UN Conference on Trade and Development);
GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade);
WFP (World Food Programme);
DHA (Department of Humanitarian Affairs);
UNIDO (UN Industrial Development Organization);
IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development);
UNITAR (UN Institute for Training & Research);
UNRWA (UN Relief & Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East);
UNU (UN University);
HABITAT (UN Centre for Human Settlements);
WFC (World Food Council);
UNDCP (UN International Drug Control Programme);
ICJ (International Court of Justice);
INSTRAW (International Research & Training Institute for the Advancement of Women);
UNIDIR (UN Institute for Disarmament Research);
UNRISD (UN Research Institutie for Social Development);
UNICRI (UN Inter-regional Crime & Justice Research Institute);
ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization);
UPU (Universal Postal Union);
ITU (International Telecommunication Union);
WMO (World Meteorological Organization);
IMO (International Maritime Organization);
WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization);
IAEA (International Atomic Energy Authority);
WTO (World Tourism Organization).

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