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POPULATION: Cash Shortage Hurting UNFPA

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 27 1999 (IPS) - The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) marked its 30th year of operations Wednesday with a plea for donor nations to boost their contributions to the agency.

UNFPA officials said there was a shortfall this year of some 72 million dollars in commitments to country programmes.

“It is still ironic and tragic that, as we move into what should be a new era of harmony and cooperation, a shortage of funds is tying our hands,” said UNFPA Executive Director Nafis Sadik.

UNFPA’s 1999 income was estimated to be 248 million dollars, 29 million dollars less than last year and 42 million dollars less than in 1997, Sadik said. Income had dropped by 14 percent over the past two years, she added.

“This reduction has led to a stop-and-go process that impedes progress, prevents economies of scale and disrupts the efficient management of programmes and resources,” Sadik said. “We have had to postpone training for midwives, put off buying new obstetric equipment, and delay the purchase of contraceptives.”

Sadik said that the 79-million-dollar shortfall for this year could deprive more than one million people of modern contraceptive methods, and could lead to 1.4 million additional unwanted pregnancies.

She blamed currency fluctuations – which have lowered the value of contributions from European donors – and the financial problems in Japan, the agency’s largest donor, for some of the shortfall.

Yet the United States has been responsible for a large portion of the problem, with conservatives in the US Congress repeatedly objecting to what they have alleged was UNFPA support for draconian population programmes in China.

Because of pressure from some Republicans in Congress, the 25- million-dollar US contribution to UNFPA was cut by five million dollars last year – an amount which corresponded to the proportion spent on the China programme.

US President Bill Clinton has pushed Congress to re-fund UNFPA, and has won supported from Democrats and moderate Republicans in the House of Representatives. The appropriations for UNFPA have passed the relevant committees in both the House and Senate, and have been approved by the House as a whole.

“This looks hopeful to us,” Sadik said of the progress of the UNFPA funding measure.

On Tuesday, US Delegate Sim Farar told the second committee of the UN General Assembly that the United States had not done all that it could to meet population commitments.

“Overseas development assistance continued its decline of the past few years, and political pressures have made it difficult to mobilise all the resources” needed to implement population goals agreed to five years ago at a population summit in Cairo, Farar acknowledged.

“Nevertheless, the Clinton administration continues to seek ways to increase funding for Cairo priorities,” Farar added. “We are quite hopeful that we will restore the US contribution to UNFPA this year, and remain strongly committed to the work, goals and principles of UNFPA.”

Still, UNFPA officials said, the population debate could remain a political football in the US Congress.

Already, an unrelated effort by Republicans to cut US funding for non-governmental groups that advocated changes in abortion laws worldwide, threatened to sink a bill to repay some 900 million dollars in arrears to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, officials noted privately, some Republican politicians – including Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey – continue to view UNFPA, and the China programme in particular, as pro-abortion, despite evidence to the contrary.

Sadik said she has tried to ensure that the China programme does not include population targets, including Beijing’s previous effort to restrict couples to having only one child. “I’m pleased with the way the one-child policy was suspended,” Sadik said.

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