Time to put away the begging bowls

Published: Thursday 15 October 1992

LEADERS of developing countries today find in environment a cause of great worldwide concern -- a concern that is steadily growing in their own countries and one that already has deep roots in the rich North. Political leaders from the South, who attended the recent 10th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Jakarta, discussed the environment, especially as resolutions of the Rio earth summit are to be considered soon by the UN General Assembly. As usual, they urged the North to provide more aid and heard leaders such as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe express fears of "ecological imperialism" and others recite the usual platitude of more South-South cooperation. A little more realistically, Tanzania's Julius Nyerere pointed, "There was never enough money in the North for all the aid, credit or even direct foreign investment, which the countries of the South were hoping, indeed, competing for...."

It is doubtful if anyone is listening to these leaders. What happened three months ago at the Rio summit ought to be a bitter reminder to them that the developed countries are not impressed by requests from the South for more money and technology. To put it bluntly, begging does not impress them at all.

The UNCED secretariat has calculated developing countries need international assistance worth US $125 billion every year for sustainable development. At the end of the Rio summit, the entire South probably got a commitment of no more than an extra US $2.5 billion in aid -- and nobody is certain of even this, though the amount is equal to the cost of just two days in the Gulf war. The richer countries did not commit themselves to the UN-set target of 0.7 per cent of GNP as annual aid to be given by 2000. And, recent reports indicate the African countries' demand for a convention on desertification is steadily receding into the background.

The lessons are obvious by now and our leaders should learn from them: firstly, stop begging for more aid, secondly, practise efficient management of one's indigenous resources, and, thirdly, as far as the global dialogue is concerned, propose and jointly fight for your own, alternative vision for global management. Each of us -- black, brown, yellow and white -- has equal rights to this earth. Hence, a global management system should be proposed that would respect our rights in a way that those who are gluttons of the world's resources would face clear economic disincentives, while the well-behaved would gain clear incentives. If, in the resulting automatic flow of resources, some cash comes to the South, well and good; if not, the people of the South must learn the discipline of living entirely within only that which is rightfully theirs.

At neither Rio nor Jakarta was it spelled out how developing countries want this earth to be managed. And, in the absence of a clear South perspective on this, it is unlikely that there will be a serious dialogue with the North and all the bluster of the South would be dismissed as just so much hot air. Even worse, this lapse is tantamount to undermining the future economic interests and ecological rights of the Southern people. Hopefully, when the Southern leaders meet again, there will be less rhetoric and more substance and vision.

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