Cash Crunch Idles Escalators

A sign directs people away from an escalator at UN headquarters in NYC. People instead must use stairs or an elevator; photo via IPS.

The United Nations in October turned to austerity measures, including the shutdown of the escalators in its NYC headquarters building, after some of its annual member-country contributions — including from the U.S. — became past-due, leaving the intergovernmental organization strapped for cash. According to the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency, some of these measures have put a serious crimp in the U.N.’s mission, such as cutbacks on translation and interpretation services, travel and operating hours. Officials have acknowledged, however, that the escalator shutdowns are meant more as a symbolic gesture to draw attention to the missed payments, rather than a substantial money-saving move. Complaints by diplomats resulted in restoration of escalator service to floors used by envoys, but a moving staircase used mostly by U.N. staffers and journalists remains shut down. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. spends about US$14,000 to operate the escalator, and repeated questions from reporters have led to the suggestion of using the recently installed Gandhi Solar Park — a US$1-million, 50-kW solar array that was a gift from the Government of India — to power the idled unit. “I’m barely a spokesman,” Dujarric said in response to the suggestion. “I don’t think I’m an electrical engineer, but I will see where that electricity goes.” A U.N. official said the austerity measures are only temporary, and that full services would be restored once cash-flow problems are resolved.

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