The United Nations is tightening its belt. UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim has made an allout effort to use its money more wisely.
The new and dramatic budgetary restraints have been distributed evenly throughout the organization and all UN departments have been asked to make sacrifices. Mr. Waldheim's efforts to keep UN expenditures down reflect his concern over the UN's financial credibility.
At the same time, Mr. Waldheim has been careful not to diminish the humane role that the United Nations is playing in the developing nations -- often in the most crucial areas of food, shelter, education, and health of people simply struggling to survive.
For 1982-83 he has approved an overall budget of $1.5 billion, a 14.9 percent hike in relation to the $1.3 billion budget for 1980-81. This increase, however , is related only to the built-in inflationary costs. Not a single new program has been added, not a single new post has been created.
The 1982-83 budget is based on zero growth. The previous budget for 1980-81 still projected a modest 0.8 percent growth.
A dozen states contribute almost 90 percent of the UN budget and for this reason they are worried about the UN's budget performance. Last fall, nine major donor countries in the General Assembly voted against a small supplementary budget for 1980-81.
At the same time, however, many third-world countries are clamoring for new and increased programs, particularly in the social and economic fields.
"this is, after all, what the UN is all about," they say. Keeping expenditures down is made the more difficult since the UN is a large international organization. Eighty percent of its costs are related to staff and subject to inflation. Salary adjustments in many countries are laid down by law. In many instances UN spending is also subject to currency fluctuations.
The Secretary General cannot reduce programs that have been approved by the General Assembly. The UN is not a corporation, and has no return on its investments. Forty percent of its expenses are in non-dollar currencies and immediately affected by inflation.
The United States remains, in absolute figures, the major contributor to UN funds. But in per capita efforts, the United States ranks only 17th with every American contributing $2.66 each year.
Qatar ranks first with a yearly $33.50 per capita contribution. Norway, Sweden, and Denmark rank second, third, and fourth in per capita efforts. Every Norwegian spends $27.27, every Swede $2 3.40, every Dane $19.65 per year for the UN.