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new internationalist
issue 222 - August 1991

[image, unknown]


Low priority
Human concerns well
down the agenda

Most foreign aid is not going where it should, according to a recent United Nations report.1 Countries giving aid provide on average only 0.3 per cent of their Gross National Product for foreign assistance - less than half the 0.7 per cent target agreed to by the international community.

Of this amount, less than a quarter goes to social sector spending and no more than one third of that to human priority concerns in the fields of basic education, primary health care, rural water supply, family planning and other urgent human needs. On average about one twelfth of aid goes to human priority areas.

The way aid money is spent can make an enormous difference to the countries receiving it. For many countries, especially in Africa, aid makes up such a high proportion of development budgets that aid priorities inevitably become development priorities. In Burundi, Chad and Uganda, aid provides about one-half of the total spending on health and education.

If aid money is not ear-marked directly for human development, it is not likely to find its way there on its own. Finance ministers of aid-receiving countries are 'reluctant in the best of times to undertake social expenditures, which offer little immediate financial return and which demand recurring expenditures long into the future', according to Dr. Mahbub ul Haq, a former finance minister of Pakistan, and now Special Advisor to the United Nations Development Programme.

It is hardly encouraging to such officials if donors are also unwilling to finance recurring social spending (like education and health care and prefer to give money for 'capital-intensive schemes that just happen to require machinery and technical assistance from the same donor countries', Dr. Haq adds. This raises questions about who really benefits from aid. All too often it is the donor countries rather than the recipients that benefit; and all too often it is short-term considerations that win out.

Dinyar Godrej

1. Human Development Report 1991, UNDP.


Myanmar flight to Thailand

Sein Aye and his family walked across the Thai border. They were fleeing the persecution of the Myanmar (Burmese) army during its latest offensive, aimed at weakening the ethnic minorities opposed to the Rangoon regime.

Aye's brother was conscripted as an unpaid porter. Fearing a similar fate, which would have left his family without a bread-winner, Aye left his village to seek the safety of the Mon control area near Sangklaburi, West Thailand. The Myanmar army had taken their rice without payment. With the rains due to start in May, it was a 'do or die' situation as the roads quickly became unpassable.

The situation at the new border camps is equally insecure. The local Mon army battalion has provided some rice stores, but hardly enough to feed 1,500 people for the next five months until regular supplies can get through again. Lack of money, internal political squabbling and corruption have only worsened the situation.

Every day parties of hunters go into the surrounding jungle looking for food. Monkey stew is now the main supplement to a fish and rice diet. Timid baby monkeys are kept as pets and fetch up to $32 when sold. But it will not be long before the monkeys move deeper into the jungle, away from danger. They have already done so near the longer-term camps.

There are five such camps near Sangklaburi, with a total population of around 7,000. They have schools and hospitals, but supplies are still a problem, especially when the rains come. The Mon Liberation Army is in nominal control of the area, but the Thai border police can influence the situation dramatically. At the end of February 1991, after the murder of two Thais, the road to the camps was closed for a week, cutting off vital supplies.

At the new, inaccessible border camps people are left to fend for themselves and go hungry. A hospital has been built but it was only at the beginning of March that two Mon nurses arrived. In spite of foreign aid, and the presence of international medical personnel at the main camps, there is a shortage of supplies and doctors.

Malaria and dengue fever are two of the main killers. Bronchial and respiratory diseases - the logging roads throw up great quantities of choking red dust - as well as diarrhoea, hospitalize many children. A whooping cough epidemic is sweeping the region and there are novaccines available.

There is much rhetoric on the side of the anti-government groups about overthrowing the Myanmar junta. The truth for Mon refugees is that they are going to have to survive on their own for the foreseeable future. The 250,000 strong Myanmar army has new weaponry, assault planes and helicopters from China.

The minorities are only shakily united and reliant on foreign aid. Many more refugees will die before a solution is found. By then the monkeys will have moved deeper into the jungle.

Story and photo by Rob Stewart


Sherpa trek
Women carry the burden in Nepal

Younger Sherpa men, of all Nepalis, are the most 'hip'. They dress in expensive jeans, tracksuits, baseball caps. They have Walkmans, tend to speak good English and smoke designer cigarettes. The women, however, have on the whole kept up the traditional - and hard - way of life in the mountains.

The influx of Western influence, which followed expeditions to Everest from within Nepal's borders, has greatly affected the Sherpas' way of life. Schools, hospitals and clinics, postal services, air transport and radio communication changed a semi-nomadic life to one much more dependent on tourism, trekking and expeditions.

But the 'glamorous' work of the high altitude porters is all done by men. The Sherpinis, the Sherpa women, are left to do the work at home. And the Khumbu, or Everest region, is not an easy land to live in - especially when most of the men are away for up to 10 months of the year working for trekking and expedition groups.

The planting and harvesting seasons coincide with the trekking seasons. Women also run tea-houses, sometimes feeding dozens of trekkers a day. They look after children and animals, fetch food, water and (with increasing difficulty because of deforestation) firewood.

Living without men is not an entirely new experience for them. Before the Chinese closed the Tibetan border in 1959 many men were away for long periods on trading journeys. But never before have so many gone away, nor for such long periods - and never have so many failed to return. Between 1971 and 1988 some 57 hired Sherpas were killed on expeditions.

The benefits of tourism to Nepal are debatable. There's more hard cash, but deforestation has increased with the need for cooking fuel and the clamour of thousands of tourists for hot showers. Western values and tastes translate only with difficulty into Nepalese society; tourists too are going to have to change their habits when they visit different societies.

Story and photo by Joan Klatchko


Motivating men
Sizing up the problem

Delegates from 28 African countries recently attended a media seminar on Population in Harare, Zimbabwe, organized by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to mark the publication of this year's State of World Population Report.

Senior journalists and broadcasters from across the continent debated topics ranging from the content of the Report to the wider issues of press freedom and use of local languages. A major theme, voiced first by Yamai Jack from the Gambia, was the need to involve men more in family planning. 'Men make these decisions, not women,' she told the mostly male gathering.

Zimbabwe is certainly trying to tackle the problem of male involvement head-on. After a rousing talk from Florence Chikara, the country's chief of information and education at the National Family Planning Council, seminar delegates were taken to a village outside Harare to see Ms Chikara and her 'male motivation' team in action.

Village men were introduced: chief, local and district Party officials. Then the motivating began with vibrant, witty, slightly risqué pep-talks from a local woman health worker and her male counterpart. Dismissing the idea that using condoms in any way resembled the sensation of wearing rubber galoshes he reassured the men that sex was all in their heads anyway. And bringing the question into the open of whether any condoms could possibly be big enough for such large male egos, the health worker produced a fulsome wooden penis and carefully demonstrated how to encase it in a sensitol-lubricated condom (donated by the people of the United States of America).

Titters and laughter were followed by questions. The delegate from Swaziland wanted to know why only old men were present in the audience. It was explained that women could not attend for 'obvious' reasons, and :hat younger men had their own sessions. Neither group could be with these senior village men for such a matter.

The field trip provided plenty to talk about for the seminar group. They produced resolutions calling for their governments and UN agencies to provide them with accurate information on demographic and related issues. The subjects are sensitive in many countries. Some regimes do not want to admit their high infant mortality rate. Other administrations want to maintain their high fertility rates and suggest perhaps with some justification that it is not up to Western organizations to tell them how many children to have.

Zimbabwe's attitude is realistic. Annual population increase is currently at 2.8 per cent, out-stripping the 2.7 per cent average economic growth rate of the last ten years. Providing contraception is part of an integrated approach to try and match Zimbabwe's resources to the needs of all its people. Family planning is on the main agenda along with education, health care and industrialization and can be broadcast and written about freely. 'Not so in my country', confided one delegate ruefully. 'And if the government doesn't like what we write they don't bother to censor it - they just tell us there's no foreign exchange to buy newsprint.'

Troth Wells / UNFPA State of World Population Report 1991

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New Internationalist issue 222 magazine cover This article is from the August 1991 issue of New Internationalist.
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