The UK government plans to cut its committed funding to the UN population fund (UNFPA) from £154 million to around £23 million, in a move described as “devastating” for women and girls.
The UN agency said this is an alarming step back from a commitment agreed in 2020 which comes alongside a cut to UNFPA’s core funding by 60%, from £20 million to £8 million.
UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem said that the “cuts will be devastating for women and girls and their families across the world”.
“UNFPA recognises the challenging situation facing many donor governments, yet deeply regrets the decision of our longstanding partner and advocate to step away from its commitments at a time when inequalities are deepening and international solidarity is needed more than ever,” said Dr. Kanem. “The truth is that when funding stops, women and girls suffer, especially the poor.”
UNFPA said the £130m that has been withheld would have helped prevent a quarter of a million child and maternal deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions.
It is a huge blow to UNFPA, which works in 150 countries. Britain is the first donor government to back away from its existing commitments. When the US government stopped funding the agency under Donald Trump, commitments already made were honoured.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) currently supports between 60 and 70% of UNFPA’s supplies budget. Last year, it pledged £425m until 2025, the largest financial partnership in the agency’s history.
Gift Malunga, UNFPA’s Zambia representative, said she was shocked by the news. “It’s really troubling,” she said. “We’re really concerned that the most vulnerable women and girls will suffer most.
“We’re still trying to assess the impact … but what is certain is it will have a negative effect on the quality of life for women and girls.”
UNFPA supplies 70% of contraceptives in Zambia, where almost a third of girls will become pregnant before they reach 18.
The cuts will also have a knock-on effect on the work of NGOs provided with contraceptives by the agency, including the International Planned Parenthood Federation and MSI Reproductive Choices. In 2020, MSI received about US$8.5m (£6m) of supplies from UNFPA.
The cuts are part of Britain’s plans to reduce the overseas aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income.
An FCDO spokesperson said: “The seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including temporarily reducing the overall amount we spend on aid.
“We will still spend more than £10bn this year to fight poverty, tackle climate change and improve global health.
“We are working with suppliers and partners on what this means for individual programmes.” (Source: The Guardian)