THE EARTH TIMES
MAY 26, 1993
The Day of the NGOs
BY ASHALI VARMA
Although they came from different regions of the world to attend PrepCom2, after the first week they realized they were connected by a common bond. They were representatives of non-governmental organization from developing countries, most of which are in the southern hemisphere, and had similar experiences.
These NGO representatives formed the Southern Forum and met every afternoon to discuss their common problems in informal sessions.
As a result of their organizing and the statement they produced, they were told that the Egyptian Government would host about 100 NGO representatives from the South at a meeting especially for them, in Cairo, February 11 – 15 1994, six months before the International Conference on Population and Development.
At PrepCom2, NGOs’ first concern was the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The representatives felt these programs were literally draining the resources of their countries. The programs usually require currency devaluation, cut-backs in government spending, removal of subsidies, all of which generally have the side effect of inflation, rising unemployment, and a gradual decay in social infrastructures like schools, clinics, and access to heath services. Many developing countries have had to face this and the most affected are the women and children.
Another unifying factor was their historical process. Most countries in the South are former colonies. Many are governed by either dictatorships or military juntas which are either propped up or simply ignored by the industrialized countries, even though they are responsible for gross human rights violations and abuse of their own people. The NGOs felt it was time for all countries to join in the effort of democratizing developing countries.
The statement also pointed out that although the issues of population and sustainable development have been thoroughly analyzed, the linkages between population dynamics and patterns of consumption are generally overlooked. Unsustainable lifestyles and consumption patterns of the North are as responsible, they said, for environmental degradation as poverty and population.
The Southern NGOs established four focal points, or South-South networking mechanisms. The four focal points are Environmental Development Action in the Third World (ENDA-TM), for West Africa and the Maghreb; South North Network, for Southern Africa; Third World Network, for Asia and the Pacific; and for Latin America, ISIS, of Chile; and IBASE and SOS CORPO, in Brazil.
Not only was the access that NGOs received during PrepCom unprecedented for UN events, so was the nature and extent of NGO participation. This certainly bodes well for the Cairo Conference, and Nafis Sadik should be applauded for the sensitivity UNFPA’s showed toward representatives of citizens’ organization.