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More Funds, Less Red Tape, NGOs Tell GEF Assembly

Daniela Estrada and Danilo Valladares

PUNTA DEL ESTE, Uruguay, May 24 2010 (IPS) - Civil society organisations called for more funds, less bureaucracy and greater decision-making power, at the opening of the Fourth Global Environment Facility (GEF) Assembly Monday in this Uruguayan resort town.

Yolanda Contreras, weaving traditional cotton from Peru. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

Yolanda Contreras, weaving traditional cotton from Peru. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

Although they expressed appreciation for support received from the global fund, especially through the Small Grants Programme, representatives of the GEF NGO Network — a partnership with more than 400 GEF-accredited non- governmental organisations worldwide — participating in the five-day meeting in Punta del Este criticised the excessive bureaucracy bogging down the process of applying for project funds and the lack of cultural sensitivity towards indigenous communities.

Delegates from the NGOs also called for a greater voice in the design of national programmes financed by the GEF, which was created in 1991 by the World Bank but was restructured in 1994 and became a permanent, separate institution that currently brings together 181 countries.

More than 30 countries pledged 4.25 billion dollars in donations to finance the GEF over the next four years, 52 percent more than the total in the fourth replenishment of funds in 2006, GEF CEO Monique Barbut said.

But the civil society organisations were calling for 10 billion dollars.

The amount pledged by donors “will always be insufficient,” María Liechner, head of the Fundación Ecos of Uruguay, which was founded in 1994 and forms part of the GEF NGO Network, told IPS.

The representatives of the GEF member countries, meeting this week in Punta del Este, on the Atlantic coast 140 km east of the Uruguayan capital, will decide on the environmental financing priorities for the 2010-2014 period.

Liechner said the NGOs want “to form part of the projects from the planning stage, and to be taken into account when it comes to decision-making. But this is not the case today.”

The GEF, the world’s largest environmental fund, is a partnership with the private sector, NGOs, and 10 international agencies: the U.N. Development Programme; the U.N. Environment Programme; the World Bank; the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation; the U.N. Industrial Development Organisation; the African Development Bank; the Asian Development Bank; the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; the Inter-American Development Bank; and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

It provides grants to developing countries and economies in transition for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants.

“There’ s a big issue of cultural understanding,” Minnie Degawan, head of the Indigenous Peoples Network for Change (IPNC), told IPS. “The GEF looks at indigenous people as just a small sector and it treats them like it treats all the others. It does not recognise that indigenous people have different ways of doing things. So there’s a lot of educating that needs to be done with the GEF.”

The IPNC emerged to respond to the need for indigenous peoples to effectively participate in international processes that have a direct impact on their daily lives, with particular attention to the GEF and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), signed in 1992. The IPNC involves groups in Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Degawan said the GEF “want to just deal with biodiversity and they don’t want to deal with climate change; they want to always keep them separate. But indigenous people do not look at it that way; we always see things as interconnected.”

She also complained about the red tape involved in applying for GEF funds. “After three years of working on this project funded by the GEF, I think I have more white hair. They require so many things and sometimes it’s just repeating itself, like you have to fill in this form, and you fill in this form, and it’s basically the same.”

In addition, she said the funds for projects involving indigenous communities are still insufficient.

“In the last period, GEF grants (for the Small Grants Programme) totalled 110 million dollars, and this time that amount was increased to 220 million dollars – in other words, there was a 100 percent increase,” without counting the funds that each country can earmark from its national action plan, William Ehlers, GEF Team Leader for External Relations, told IPS.

One change projected for this four-year period is the release of funding for new countries interested in joining the global partnership, said Ehlers.

Indigenous activist Yolanda Contreras with the Asociación de Artesanas de Arbolso y Huaca de Barro, an NGO from northwestern Peru, told IPS that the funds that reach native communities through the Small Grants Programme are still insignificant.

Financing of the Small Grants Programme is less than one percent of the total GEF budget, which has allocated more than nine billion dollars to over 2,600 projects in 165 countries since it was created.

Contreras, whose project receives technical assistance from the GEF for growing and weaving native varieties of naturally coloured cotton, acknowledged the importance of that support, pointing out that “the tradition of our ancestors was being lost. We didn’t have seeds to plant the cotton.”

In the meeting with the civil society groups, Small Grants Programme Global Manager Delfin Ganapin recognised that there are many challenges in terms of facilitating access to funding by local communities, increasing the budget, improving training, and overcoming cultural and language barriers.

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