Unesco scrambles after funding cut

2011-11-11 09:31
Paris - The United Nations' cultural agency has suspended new programmes in response to the US decision to cut off funding after Unesco granted the Palestinians membership, the agency said on Thursday.

Unesco Director General Irina Bokova told the Unesco General Conference in Paris the US cut had left a $65m hole in the agency's 2011 budget.

"We have to take radical steps and we have to take them now," Bokova told the conference in Paris on Wednesday, according to the text of her speech made public on Thursday.

Unesco, which promotes education and press freedom among other tasks, said it would put new commitments on hold between now and the end of December while it conducted a review of its activities to try and find savings.

A Unesco spokesperson said priority programmes would be maintained, and there were no plans for job losses at the organisation for the time being.

Fragile finances

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation was plunged into financial chaos in October when Washington, which provides 22% of its funds, froze its contributions following the Palestinian vote.

US legislation prohibits funding for any UN agency that grants full membership to any group that is not internationally recognised as a state.

Bokova said that by reviewing its contractual commitments, personnel expenses and travel and communications costs, Unesco could probably generate savings of up to $35m for this year's budget.

The agency would then use its $30m working capital fund to cover the remainder of the $65m shortfall, but that would leave its finances in a fragile state at the start of 2012.

For the coming year, the absence of US funding meant Unesco was facing a $143m shortfall, Bokova said, adding the agency would prioritise its activities and reduce operating expenses further if needed.

US President Barack Obama is talking to members of Congress about funding for Unesco, but faces fierce opposition in an era of tight budgets, especially from Republican lawmakers.

Bokova appealed for additional voluntary funding from other member states to bolster agency finances, and said she was launching an Emergency Multi-Donor Fund for core priority programmes.

The government of Gabon said on Thursday it would donate $2m to the agency to help deal with the immediate shortfall.

Unesco also launched an online appeal for donations from the general public, which it said would go toward the emergency fund.

"I know this is not a long-term solution, but it will provide the organisation with some breathing space to plan rationally within new conditions," Bokova said.

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