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The expanded program of technical assistance

By M. PEREZ-GUERRERO, Executive Secretary, Technical Assistance Board, United Nations

The Expanded Program of Technical Assistance for economic development of underdeveloped countries, which recently was undertaken by the United Nations and the specialized agencies, has a history going back to the San Francisco Conference of 1945. The signatories of the United Nations Charter were aware that it was insufficient to create an organization, which should attempt to maintain international peace and security without at the same time promoting the economic and social conditions of peace. They, therefore, pledged themselves in Article 55 to work for "higher standards of living, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress and development."

The tremendous and dangerous disparity between the standard of living in the advanced and the underdeveloped countries was illustrated in a recent UN study. In 1947 it was estimated that the average income per caput in the United States of America was over $1,400 and in another 14 countries it ranged between $1,400 and $900. But in 25 other countries, comprising more than half the world's population, the average income was less than $100 a year. This inequality was nothing new. But it has been emphasized after the war by the emergence in Asia of substantial new independent nations, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Burma, and Ceylon, whose elected governments are pledged to momentous programs for the improvement of the standard of living and whose populations are increasingly impatient of existing standards. The basic problem in these and other underdeveloped countries is constant pressure on the land, creating a vicious circle of poverty; poverty preventing investment in new agricultural equipment which would produce better crops, or an industry which would create new employment; poverty which prevents the effective eradication and treatment of disease and of illiteracy.

To overcome this poverty capital investment is required - new industrial and agricultural machinery, power plants, medicines, transport equipment. But at an earlier stage what is more urgently required is planning and technical advice. Adult illiteracy, for instance, is not abolished by building schools but by finding the best medium for approaching the illiterate. In the eradication of disease to persuade the villager to adopt simple sanitary precautions is as important as to provide medicines. And the best industrial machinery is useless without trained mechanics to maintain it.

The United Nations and the specialized agencies are in no position to provide loans or investments, but they can, and always have seen it as one of their most important functions, provide experts to visit countries which require advice and technical instruction, and, what is equally important, provide training abroad for nationals of underdeveloped countries. Even before the announcement of President Truman's Point Four Program the United Nations General Assembly had appropriated a modest sum for a technical assistance program. This was used to organize expert missions to advise governments on their economic development programs and to offer fellowships for advanced technical training abroad.

Financing the Program

It was, however, as a result of President Truman's initiative that the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in February 1949 asked the Secretary General and the heads of the specialized agencies to work out a "comprehensive plan for the expanded program of technical assistance," and in August 1949, having considered that plan, evolved in Resolution 222(IX) detailed machinery for its administration. What remained was to find the money to finance it' and in July 1950 all members, not only of the United Nations but also of the specialized agencies, were invited to Lake Success to pledge contributions to a new Technical Assistance Fund. In a remarkably short and harmonious conference just over $20 million was pledged for the first 18 months of the scheme.

By the end of August about 11 percent of the pledged funds had already been paid in, and a start had been made with the operation. Under Resolution 222(IX) the method of work had been very carefully prescribed. The first $10 million of the contribution is automatically available for distribution among the participating organizations in fixed proportions. These organizations are, in addition to the United Nations, the following specialized agencies: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and World Health Organization (WHO). The organizations provide expert technicians or training facilities only in response to requests from governments, and not from individuals or private organizations. To ensure co-ordination and to prevent any duplication of work, a Technical Assistance Board (TAB) has been set up on which each agency is represented, and in whose discussions the International Bank and the International Monetary Fund participate. The Board agrees on the establishment of joint missions to visit countries which have manifold problems for which technical assistance has been requested. It prepares background studies. It arranges for the necessary currency clearings. It sets common standards for experts and fellows. It arranges for the appointment of Resident Technical Assistance Representatives who are stationed in individual countries to advise governments on their requirements of technical assistance in relation to the developmental needs of the country and the resources at the disposal of the organization. The Board also maintains working relationships with other technical assistance schemes such as that of the Organization of American States. The Technical Assistance Board remains responsible to the Economic and Social Council which has set up a Technical Assistance Committee (TAC) consisting of its full membership, to receive regular reports from the Board.

The Work in Hand

Such, briefly, is the history of the creation of the expanded program. Its future can perhaps be indicated from the numerous requests for assistance which have already been received from every continent. To note a few samples among them, the United Nations secretariat itself has been asked for economic advisers statisticians, and experts in social welfare. The International Labour Organisation has been asked to advise on co-operatives and social insurance. FAO has been asked to provide experts in agriculture, fisheries and forestry; UNESCO to advise on general education and illiteracy. ICAO has been asked for aviation experts; WHO for public health, malaria, tuberculosis, and typhus control experts.

Why must so wide a field be covered by the United Nations and the specialized agencies, when other means for carrying out technical assistance have existed for many years? This question was answered by the Secretary-General in opening the Technical Assistance Conference of June 1950. The program, he said, "is founded on the principle of universality - universality of participation of contribution and of benefits.... It demonstrates the United Nations spirit by the fact that the underdeveloped countries will share in its direction and administration on a basis of full equality with the more developed countries. None of the abuses associated with past experiences of political or economic domination of one country by another are possible.

Though the new program has made a sound start and a lot can be expected from it, its limitations should not be overlooked. Twenty million dollars is a small sum in relation to the appalling poverty of great areas of Asia and of Latin America. The expanded program cannot provide capital, nor indeed equipment except the minimum necessary for demonstration purposes. The number of well trained experts available for technical assistance work is also limited. By itself it can hardly raise the standard of living of any country. It depends for its usefulness on the energy and resourcefulness of the requesting nations in implementing the recommendations of the experts. But already it is clear that since the war there is a much wider intolerance of poverty, illiteracy, and disease in the world. Wherever governments are prepared to make efforts and even sacrifices to raise the standard of living and seek technical advice in doing so, they will find a sympathetic and unprejudiced source of assistance in the United Nations and the specialized agencies.

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