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Economy and Apathy Blamed for Lack of Progress in U.N.'s $128.1-Billion Aid Plan

June 21, 1987|J.T. NGUYEN | United Press International

UNITED NATIONS — An ambitious U.N. plan to provide $128.1 billion in relief aid to African countries devastated by famine is not progressing fast enough--a victim of a slumping global economy, squabbling between governments and Western apathy, diplomats and U.N. officials say.

Since the General Assembly approved the five-year relief effort on June 1, 1986, not one dollar has been sent to countries like Ethiopia, Sudan and Mozambique, where thousands of people have died because of severe drought.

Some of the stricken nations have received aid from other sources in the West. But U.N. officials and diplomats say it is unlikely that any of the money allocated by the General Assembly will start flowing before 1990, the end of the U.N.'s Program of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development.

Obstacles Ahead

African leaders, who will meet Monday in Abuja, Nigeria, to review the progress of the famine relief plan, are facing serious obstacles in their efforts to obtain the aid.

The Africans, through the Organization of African Unity, are to put up $82.5 billion of the package, raising the money largely through the export of commodities and raw materials to industrialized countries, who are to put up the remaining $45.6 billion.

But a sharp drop in commodity prices on world markets and heightened distrust between debtor and lender nations has effectively crippled that part of the aid program, diplomats and officials said.

The Ivory Coast lost $1 billion in income because of drops in coffee and cocoa prices, officials said.

A Lack of Interest

Canadian U.N. Ambassador Stephen Lewis, who devoted 80% of his time to the African cause and was chastised by his government for not doing his own job, also blamed Western apathy for stalling the program. Interest in famine relief ebbed after the aid concerts and other public efforts in 1984 and 1985, Lewis contended.

"The response (from the West) has been thus far disappointing, whereas Africa has moved heaven and earth to fulfill their share," Lewis said. "The donor countries have not lived up to the bargain."

Lewis noted, however, that in some African countries, debt servicing absorbs 50% to 70% of export income. International Monetary Fund figures show African countries this year owe $227 billion, with annual debt service payments of $27 billion.

Goran Ohlin, an assistant secretary general for development, research and policy analysis, warned African countries not to follow the example of Zambia, which recently pulled out of arrangements with the World Bank and the IMF for debt repayment.

'Avoid the Unraveling'

"The African situation is extremely serious, and we are watching it closely," he said. "One wants to avoid the unraveling of programs for African recovery."

Chester Norris, the U.S. delegate charged with monitoring implemention of the aid package, acknowledged problems in the program, but stressed "it takes time" for the program to work.

An advisory board and a steering committee set up by Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar to help him implement the plan must identify specific problem areas and coordinate efforts with intergovernmental agencies, Norris said.

"The U.N. resolution was a historic moment and it's not in anyone's interest to see Africa fail," he added.

Progress Hindered

Experts also note that it frequently takes a year or two to negotiate a loan involving commercial banks and governments. But diplomats and U.N. officials agree that in the case of the African crisis, the red tape should have been cut more quickly.

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