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A small nation with a big heart


JANUARY 1 – 15, 1997

A small nation with a big heart

By Ashali Varma

The HAGUE, Netherlands –At a time when a number of rich countries are reassessing development assistance, the Dutch not only intend to keep up their share of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to poor countries but have also outlined policies that will make it more effective.  The Netherlands’ ODA budget for 1997 is 6 billion guilders, (about $3.24 billion), which is 0.8 percent of its GNP.

In an interview with The Earth Times,  Koos N.M Richelle, the Netherlands’ Director General of International Cooperation, said, “The main priorities for development cooperation are poverty eradication and the promotion of economic self-sustainability in developing countries.”

He added that the new focus in the budget for 1997, is on four quantified quality targets.  He explained that the first is the 20/20 concept put forward at the Social Summit, under which donors pledge to devote 20 percent of their aid and developing countries 20 percent of their national budgets to the provision of basic social services.

Richelle said, “We will not wait for the developing countries to fulfill their part; we intend to start our part of the 20 percent targeted to basic social services.

The second target is to increase spending one environment and sustainable development.  In 1997 the budget for this is 379.3 million guilders (about $211 million), up from 308 million guilders in 1996 (about $171 million).

“The third target is to spend 4 percent of the total ODA expenditure on reproductive health and the fourth is to allocate 25 percent of total ODA funds to the least developed countries,” said Richelle.

On the question of whether donors find it easier to justify humanitarian aid than development aid, Richelle said that all assistance is under siege because of recently presented evaluations both nationally and internationally.  “In spite of the fact that we have spent billions of guilders in a country like Tanzania, the per capita income there is lower than it was 20 years ago.  This naturally causes political debate in our country, even among believers in development cooperation,” he said. But on the whole Richelle feels there is more fatigue toward humanitarian aid because it means pumping in large sums of money for every crisis.

“What we like to underline in the debate is that development is a struggle and the cause of conflicts sometimes. One should see it on a long-term basis. We also had poverty here in our country before the Second World War,” he said.

“Development is a process that cannot be successful unless you emphasize the ownership and participation of the countries themselves. This is something we have learnt,” Richelle said “and we want to move away from the project-to-project approach and encourage a program approach, where the ownership of the program should be in the country itself.”

He cited Uganda as an example of a country that is looking ahead. He said that 1997 will be an important year for Uganda because it will reduce its debt level to a sustainable point. “And they have announced to the donor community that they want to install a fund for the social sector which they would also contribute toward as well as the donors,” Richelle said.

On the question of links between Dutch companies and development aid, Richelle emphasized, “We are one of the few countries to propagate untied aid. And since we are one of the few donors to do this, we have a vigorous political debate based on input from Dutch enterprises to have more tied aid. We have to give in a little to this.”

Looking ahead, Richelle feels that the most important agenda for development cooperation is to see that the promises made at the UN world conferences arc implemented. He thinks that it is not only a matter of donors coordinating their efforts but also requires that developing countries outline their priorities and that multilateral agencies streamline their efforts. He emphasized that developing countries have to practice good governance. And it is important for developing countries to be empowered by the donors to participate more actively in their own development.


JANUARY 1 – 15, 1997



Country of the Year: Supporting sustainable development


THE HAGUE, Netherlands–a population of more than 15 million people and a land mass of only 16,033 square miles, the Netherlands is one of the most crowded countries on Earth. More crowded than India, which has a population density of 766 per square mile compared with 964 per square mile in the Netherlands.

Much of the land lies below sea level and  has been reclaimed and protected by 1,500 miles of dikes. The city of Rotterdam, located along the principal mouth of the Rhine, handles more cargo than any ocean port in the world.

It is natural for the Dutch to be concerned about the environment both at home and abroad.

“Our environmental work started in 1970 when we had very severe air pollution in Rotterdam,” said Margaretha de Boer, the Netherlands’ Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment. “It was the same as in some of the more polluted cities of today.”

Along with severe air pollution the Dutch had to contend with water pollution and soil contamination as well. “Although the severe problems of the Seventies have been tackled, and we have cleaner vehicles on the road, we still have to contend with the increasing volume of traffic and we have a lot of cattle. So we have a carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and methane problem,” De Boer said.

She said, agreements with France, Germany and Belgium have halted the pollution of the Rhine.

De Boer said one of her main priorities is climate. “We are discussing in the European Union the goals that we want to reach by the year 2000 concerning the reduction of greenhouse gases, and also beyond the year 2000.”

De Boer also works closely with Jan Pronk, Netherlands’ Minister for Development Cooperation. “We recently introduced a policy for issues of sustainable development, environment and economic development to be treated in a holistic way.”

De Boer said that environmental problems can no longer be treated as local national concerns but have to be dealt with at an international level. “That is why it is necessary to deal with environment in the context of sustainable development.” This has resulted in a substantial increase in expenditure in the environmental sector – at home and in development assistance as well. In 1996, environmental aid constituted 4 percent total ODA. In 1997 it will constitute 6 percent of the total.

In addition, De Boer said that the minister of economic affairs, minister of agriculture and minister of development are working with her on a policy to protect the rainforests. “My part of the work is that we are developing a certificate which will identify wood which is

coming from countries that are dealing with rainforests in a sustainable manner.” She added that some of the “developing countries were not too happy about it because they see it as a restriction which will prevent them from exporting wood.”

De Boer said it was also one of the issues they took up at the World Trade Organization meeting in Singapore in December so that other countries will follow the example set by the Netherlands.

To encourage good practice in sustainable forestry the Dutch give 50 million guilders ($27.8 million) a year toward preservation of tropical forests.

Unique among De Boer’s programs is a reciprocal sustainable development agreement her ministry has signed with Costa Rica, Benin and Bhutan. “Which means that while we assist those countries in capacity building and ways to achieve sustainable development, they can also have a say in our activities.” She feels that the element of reciprocity is important as countries should feel that they are partners in this issue and not feel that they are being dictated to.

De Boer is candid about what a country needs to develop in a sustainable way. “No country can have good sustainable development where there is no economic progress, where the people are hungry, where there is poverty. It is difficult for them to be environmentally conscious. And that is why I think it is important for us to work on all these issues together.”