The United Nations closed down starting last Monday some of its operations both at its New York City headquarters and in UN agencies around the world. In an effort to meet a budget crisis, meetings were cancelled, official travel limited, printing and release of UN documents delayed, air-conditioning and heating reduced.
These are as yet minor operations of the UN but Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the emergency measures will have to be carried out until further notice because the UN has exhausted “all regular budget liquidity reserves” for the second year in a row. Payments received so far this year are only 70 percent of the total amounts assessed, compared to 78 percent last year. The deficit in dollar terms amounts to $230 million.
The UN has over 30 affiliated agencies, including the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In 2016, the UN had a general budget of $5.7 billion, but it also needed to fund its peacekeeping operations with $9 bllion. The UN’s total expenses are funded by mandatory payments from all 193 UN members. The United States has always been the biggest fund contributor, giving $4 billion in assessed payments in 2016 and $6 billion in voluntary payments.
For decades, the US has grumbled about its big financial share in the running of the UN and under President Donald Trump, it is said to be using funding cuts as a diplomatic tool for US policy. Last month, the US announced it will cut funding for the UN program that assists Palestinian refugees.
This year, UN Management Chief Catherine Pollard told the UN General Assembly’s Budget Committee that 65 countries are behind by $1.386 billion in dues for the UN’s 2019 operating budget. The US accounts for $1.055 billion – on top of $3.7 billion it owes to the separate budget for 14 peacekeeping operations.
The move to stop some UN activities affects only minor operations of the organization thus far but it may be a foretaste of things to come. We hope it will not affect the really critical operations of the UN, most notably the work of WHO, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the many peacekeeping operations around the globe, which Philippine troops have long been part of.