April 9, 2012
On April 4, 2012, Defense News published the following article:
China, Qatar Fill U.S. Gap in U.N. Agency Funding
By Pierre Tran
PARIS — Soon after the U.S. announced cancellation of its contribution to UNESCO on Oct. 31, China stepped up with a first-time $8 million funding for the U.N. agency’s education program, while Qatar chipped in $20 million, a UNESCO diplomat said.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is seen by the Obama administration as a piece of strategic real estate to further U.S. national and security interests in the world, based on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s smart power approach.
The Chinese and Qatari contributions were seen in some circles as seizing an opportunity to increase influence after the U.S. cancellation slashed the U.N. agency’s annual budget by 22 percent.
A loss of U.S. clout is the price for axing funding, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said in March 20 testimony to a congressional subcommittee.
Rice pointed out UNESCO’s role as an anti-extremist organization, as its grassroots activities help nation-building efforts. Rice was an early advocate of the “responsibility to protect” concept, which endorses foreign military intervention to protect civilians threatened by their own government.
UNESCO operations in “front-line states” will be weakened or cut, raising potential security fears. Such programs include a $3 million literacy program for the 3,000-strong Afghan police force, disarming and reintegrating child soldiers in South Sudan, and water management in Iraq.
Afghan officials have made public concerns over the impact of U.S. funding cuts on UNESCO programs in their country, including the police literacy program. The planned U.S. and allied withdrawal of armed forces from Afghanistan in 2014 has raised grave concerns of a takeover by the Taliban in the wake of their retreat.
The Obama administration is seeking a waiver on U.S. laws adopted in the 1990s aimed at excluding the defunct Palestinian Liberation Organization from joining U.N. agencies. The laws forced cancellation of the 2011-2012 contribution of $160 million.
Determined testimony by Clinton and Rice before Congress on the importance of the U.S. presence in UNESCO is backed by the administration, which has funded the agency in its 2012 budget.
The UNESCO general assembly approved the Palestinian Authority as a member last year, which triggered the U.S. funding cut. UNESCO members, however, voted to keep the U.S. on the executive board despite the loss of financing. The agency is slashing programs because of the shortfall of funds.
So what does America’s cancelled support for UNESCO mean for the people of Nepal? It makes it more difficult for UNESCO to continue to support all of its well-established programs.
It also provides China with the opportunity to once again shore up its profile as a local hero – a staunch supporter of Nepali cultural and humanitarian programs, while America rummages through Mid-East issues.
WHAT IS THE VALUE OF UNESCO IN NEPAL?
According to its mission statement the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu:
…contributes to building peace, alleviating poverty, and fostering sustainable development and intercultural dialogue in Nepal through education, science, culture, communication and information. UNESCO works to attain a quality Education for All, focusing on gender equality and adult literacy, to mobilize scientific knowledge and science policy for sustainable development, to preserve cultural heritage, promote cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, and to empower people through the free flow of ideas and access to information and knowledge. To achieve these objectives, UNESCO actively participates in the work of the UN Country Team in Nepal and closely cooperates with other development partners in the country.
More specifically, UNESCO focuses on:
UNESCO prepares science projects that can help in disaster risk reduction, e.g. forecasting earthquakes and flood hazards. It cooperates with Nepal Academy of Science and Technology in preparation of national policy in science and technology. It also advocates for clean water through variety of events that link water and development.
UNESCO is the only international agency in Nepal actively involved in the area of culture. The UNESCO Office in Kathmandu has been conducting a wide variety of programs and activities aimed at supporting the government to foster the country’s cultural diversity; protect its natural and cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible; promote cultural diversity and inter cultural dialogue for social cohesion; and contribute to a culture of peace.
Through UNESCO, Nepal has become the home to four World Heritage Sites:
1. Kathmandu Valley (1979) including the Durbar Squares of Hanuman Dhoka (Kathmandu), Patan and Bhaktapur, the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Bauddhanath and the Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan
2. Sagarmatha National Park (1979)
3. Chitwan National Park (1984)
4. Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha
COMMUNICATION AND INFORMATION
Access to information and a free, independent and professional media are particularly crucial in Nepal, where the Constitution and state restructuring are under way and democracy is still young. The UNESCO Office in Kathmandu supports peace building efforts by building the capacity of journalists, supporting community multimedia centres and community radios, promoting press freedom and the right to Information, and fostering access to information and knowledge. The Office works closely with national partners, creating strong national ownership of UNESCO’s action themes in these fields.
PRIORITY OF GENDER EQUALITY
The UNESCO Office in Kathmandu has established a gender focus in all its activities, particularly in the fields of education and communication and information. In addition, the Office has implemented gender specific activities, particularly for illiterate women and women journalists.
In terms of America’s strategic planning in South Asia, this is not Washington’s finest hour. In terms of Lumbini and other cultural interests -- where UNESCO plays an essential role -- America is missing the boat.