Social Education 57(2), 1993
1993 National Council for the Social Studies
Though relatively unknown, UNIDO has been extremely active, carrying out more than eleven thousand technical assistance projects in 160 countries.
Halloway, a former U.S. Department of Justice official, had been busy during the week prior to his meeting with us in preconvention planning for the Rio Conference on the environment to be held in June. He explained that UNIDO had long been involved in transferring energy efficient and ecologically safe technology and that sustainable development would minimize the danger to human health.
How does UNIDO accomplish these goals? To an Indian company, UNIDO has brought a solar energy wafer (developed by a U.S. company) for production. In Africa, UNIDO manages a number of concrete plants that control dust, ordinarily a by-product of production.
UNIDO operates by raising small amounts of money from various donors such as Germany, Italy, and the UN Development Program. With a few million dollars, for example, it has been supporting a leather processing laboratory in Kenya. The modern techniques developed there have revitalized the tanning industry in Kenya, have begun development of alternatives, and have stimulated the leather industries in many parts of Africa.
Historically, leather tanning has been a dirty business. UNIDO, therefore, has focused on the problem of effluent treatment and disposal. In the Brazilian town of Novo Hamburgo, UNIDO runs a project initiated by a contribution of less than one million dollars. By treating wastes (chloride, chrome, sulphide, and pulped hair from the hides) and recycling some of the chemicals, the Brazilian plant shows how an industry, traditionally a polluter of the environment, can be friendly to planet earth. A full-time team of eight experts at the plant ensures that the know-how generated there is passed on to other leather producers.
Finally, one UNIDO project demonstrates that manufacturing not only can avoid threatening the environment but can use earth's bounty in a most natural way. UNIDO has been taking the lead in the development of herbal medicines on an industrial scale-a low-cost, readily available alternative to the more expensive drugs manufactured in the developed world. The Medicinal Plants Research Center at the University of Anatolia in Eskisehir, Turkey, is turning the country's immense variety of flora into medicines and essential oils. By 1986, a pilot plant designed to bridge the gap between laboratory and commercial production was operational. Turkey's history of using plant species for medicines, stretching back to the ancient Hittites, is now entering a more productive era.
Can the developing nations of the South, eager to move from agrarianism to industrialism, avoid the damage of smog, acid rain, atmospheric warming, and soil and water pollution that is pervasive in the North? UNIDO and the Rio Conference will attempt to answer this fateful question.
Teachers wishing to share information on this subject with their students should write to UNIDO, One UN Plaza, New York, NY 10017.
William Hartman of Great Neck, New York, is NCSS Nongovernmental Organization Delegate to the United Nations and an adjunct Associate Professor of Education at the College of Staten Island (CUNY) in New York.