By Thalif Deen
UN, Jul 17 2019 (IPS) – The Trump administration, in its continued hostility towards the United Nations– and as part of its policy aimed at undermining multilateral institutions and international commitments– has withheld its annual contributions to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) – for the third consecutive year.
The three- year annual cuts, which began in 2017, amounts to an estimated total of $210 million.
The defunding of UNFPA follows recent US decisions to slash its contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) by $300 million and cut the UN’s biennium peacekeeping budget by $500 million—primarily for political and ideological reasons.
The Trump administration, which vociferously opposes abortion nation-wide, has made unproven charges against UNFPA — although the UN agency has repeatedly declared “it does not perform, promote or fund abortion, and accords the highest priority to universal access to voluntary family planning, which helps prevent abortions from occurring.”
But that plea has apparently fallen on deaf years—perhaps by design.
“This unfortunate (US) decision will impede UNFPA’s crucial work to protect the health and lives of hundreds of millions of women and girls around the globe, including in humanitarian settings. Therefore, UNFPA hopes that the United States will reconsider its position,” the UN agency said in a statement released July 15.
Asked if the withdrawal of US funding would impact UNFPA’s mandate on reproductive health, Jeffrey Bates, Media Specialist at UNFPA, told IPS the US defunding did not impact the UNFPA mandate on reproductive health.
“However, if funding from the United States was still available, we could extend life-saving maternal and reproductive health care to millions of more women each year, including in humanitarian settings.”
Additionally, he noted, the US withdrawal of support has meant the loss of a major technical and policy supporter.
The US Government, he pointed out, played a major role in the creation and launch of UNFPA’s operations in 1969, and has been an active member of UNFPA’s Executive Board for more than 45 years.
The funding cut comes at a time when the UN agency is celebrating its 50th anniversary since it began operations in 1969 while it is also scheduled to commemorate the 25th anniversary of its landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in the Egyptian capital of Cairo in 1994.
The upcoming follow-up conference (ICPD25), which will take place in Nairobi November 12-14, is being co-sponsored by the governments of Kenya and Denmark, with UNFPA playing a lead role.
In 2016, the total US contribution to UNFPA for “core” and “non-core” combined was $69 million. With this, the US was the 3rd largest bilateral donor to UNFPA overall.
Of that amount, the US designated about $31 million as “core” resources, and the remainder $38 million as “non-core” resources earmarked for specific programmes.
Assuming this funding would have remained stable, UNFPA has estimated about $210 million being held back over the past three years
Brian Dixon, Senior Vice President for Media and Government Relations at the
Population Connection Action Fund told IPS UNFPA is working to expand access to reproductive health care and contraceptives, provide emergency obstetric care, end forced early marriage, prevent and treat obstetric fistula and promote maternal health.
He pointed out that Its work is crucial to expanding opportunity and ensuring autonomy for millions of people – especially girls and women – around the world.
“It is disgraceful, though not surprising, that the Trump administration is once again misusing a law created to protect human rights to deny them by blocking support for UNFPA’s important work. We will continue to fight to restore the support that Trump and his cronies have blocked,” said Dixon.
Eric Schwartz, President of Refugee International, said that for the third year in a row, the Trump administration is withholding funding to the UN Population Fund, which provides life-saving assistance—including emergency assistance—to women and children worldwide.
“This decision will affect some of the world’s most vulnerable people, including survivors of sexual violence who have fled from conflict or have been displaced by natural disasters,” he warned.
“Yet again, we see that the United States continues to abdicate its leadership on the global stage and demonstrate that women’s health and safety is not a priority,” Schwartz declared.
In 2018, the 5 largest bi-lateral donors to UNFPA were: the UK ($153.2 m), Canada ($128.6 m), Norway ($127.5 m), Sweden ($105.7 m) and the Netherlands ($93 m)
Asked if any regular donors have stepped up to compensate for the US loss, Bates said since the US defunding in 2017, UNFPA and partners have worked hard to replace the amounts that would have been expected from the US each year.
“We have been successful, as several donors stepped up to fill UNFPA’s 2017 gap for core resources after the US defunding, including Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain and Sweden with total additional funds of approximately $28 million”.
He said Movements such as “She Decides” have played a key role in bringing civil society, governments and other stakeholders together in support of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Some donors, including Canada, The European Commission (DG ECHO), Nordic countries, Korea and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) provided humanitarian contributions in 2017 and 2018 to allow UNFPA to continue its lifesaving work in the field, said Bates.
For example, thanks to DG ECHO, Canada, and Denmark, Bates said, “we were able (in 2017) to continue running reproductive health services in Zaatari Camp, Jordan, to guarantee safe delivery for Syrian refugees.”
“The US was the main donor of this clinic and the reduction of support significantly threatened our capacity to deliver quality and essential care,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile, in an interview with IPS last October, Marie-Claude Bibeau, the Canadian Minister of International Development, said Canada will continue to be a strong and vocal advocate for the achievement of the goals set by the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), including universal sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
“I am proud to say that, since the launch of our Feminist International Assistance Policy, in June 2017, 93% of our humanitarian assistance includes an SRHR or Women’s empowerment component.”
Meanwhile, the UNFPA also refuted longstanding US charges and misconceptions that it was supportive of abortion in China.
In its statement Monday, UNFPA said it opposes coercive practices, such as forced sterilization and coerced abortions, and has spoken out against instances of such human rights abuses. UNFPA does not promote changes to the legal status of abortion.
“UNFPA regrets the United States was unable to visit its Country Office in the People’s Republic of China prior to this decision. In 2015, UNFPA’s current China Country Programme was approved by UNFPA’s Executive Board, of which the United States is a member. The United States has never indicated what, if anything, has changed in UNFPA’s work in China to suddenly trigger a negative determination under the Kemp-Kasten Amendment.”
The UNFPA Office in China supports policy development, focusing on four (4) outcomes: Sexual and Reproductive Health, Adolescents and Youth, Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, and Population Dynamics. The UNFPA Office in China does not provide or fund any services, UNFPA said.
“UNFPA remains keen to maintain an open dialogue with the U.S. Government. UNFPA reiterates its invitation to the United States to visit its office in China. UNFPA has had the pleasure of welcoming delegations under various U.S. administrations, and none have found UNFPA to be in violation of the Kemp-Kasten Amendment.”
This unfortunate decision, the agency said, will impede UNFPA’s crucial work to protect the health and lives of hundreds of millions of women and girls around the globe, including in humanitarian settings. Therefore, UNFPA hopes that the United States will reconsider its position.
Since its founding in 50 years ago, UNFPA strives to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled, the statement added.
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By Thalif Deen