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United Nations General Assembly 2018

This series decodes deals, political moves, and gossip at the world’s biggest political summit.

UNDER THE KNIFE

Many UN agencies are in a precarious position if the US decides to cut foreign aid

By Amanda Shendruk

Just weeks before the annual United Nations General Assembly began in New York, the United States made a bold, potentially devastating financial decision. The Trump administration announced it would cut all funding to the UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees, calling the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) “irredeemably flawed.” As the agency’s largest single donor, the US’s decision represented a 30% loss to its annual budget.

This is the reality for a global organization that relies so heavily on financing from a single nation. Annually, the US alone covers about 20% of the entire UN system’s budget, but that money isn’t evenly distributed among agencies. Some organizations are more vulnerable to the whims of US funding decisions than others.

The chart shows average numbers from 2014-16 (the most recent available). But since taking office, Trump’s decisions have affected these values. In 2017, the administration cut all funding to UNESCO, and to the UN Population Fund. And most recently, all the financing towards UNRWA.

The White House budget for fiscal year 2019 emphasized how little the current administration wishes to provide international aid—especially to the UN. The proposed budget completely eliminated the International Organizations and Programs fund, which is the conduit through which the US passes money to health, development, and humanitarian agencies. Axing that budget would mean significant cuts to UNICEF, UNHCR, UNDP and others.

Luckily for the organizations and agencies that fall within that budget, the US Congress has rejected the president’s recommendation. Lawmakers have already allocated money to the fund, albeit at a lower level than in previous years.