21 March 2017

Africa: Trump Proposes Huge Cuts to UN, Aid Agencies in 'America First' Budget

Photo: Gage Skidmore /Wikipedia
Donald Trump speaking at an immigration policy speech in Phoenix, Arizona.

US President Donald Trump has proposed massive cuts in allocations to the United Nations and America's aid agency USAid in his new budget.

In the budget proposal, titled America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again, President Trump plans to increase military spending by $54 billion by reducing allocations to other areas.

The budget for the State Department would be cut by $10.9 billion (28 per cent), from the current $38 billion, to $27.1 billion. He has also proposed to end the $28.2 million funding to the African Development Foundation, a US agency that gives grants of up to $250,000 to communities and small businesses in sub-Saharan Africa.

The draft budget, if passed, will come into effect at the start of October, and will heavily impact the World Food Programme (WFP), a key lifeline organisation especially in famine-stricken areas, the more than 600,000 refugees in the Horn of Africa, and in Kenya's Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.

The cuts mean that several peace keeping missions and humanitarian agencies in Africa will have to reorganise their budgets.The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also targeted, with a reduction of $2.6 billion, or 31 per cent, from the current $8.2 billion to $5.7 billion.

"I propose to eliminate the Global Climate Change Initiative and cease payments to the UN climate change programmes by eliminating US funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds," the budget statement reads.

President Trump is also proposing to get rid of more than 50 EPA programmes with a targeted cut of $347 million, and end the $100 million funding for Clean Power Plan aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Clean Power Plan is former US president Barack Obama's signature climate policy.

The peacekeeping missions in Africa likely to be affected are the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations Mission in Darfur, United Nations Mission in South Sudan and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic.

"I propose to reduce funding to the UN and affiliated agencies, including UN peacekeeping and other international organisations, by setting the expectation that these organisations rein in costs and that the funding burden be shared more fairly among members. The amount the US would contribute to the UN budget would be reduced, and we would not contribute more than 25 per cent for UN peacekeeping costs," the budget statement says.

The US provides about $10.4 billion annually to international organisations, of which $8.8 billion goes to the UN. It pays 28.5 per cent of the $7.9 billion UN peacekeeping budget. It has also been a big player in financing the four African peace keeping organisations, and the proposed budget cuts would leave huge funding gaps.Speaking in Japan, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended the budget cuts."Clearly the level of spending that the state department has been undertaking, particularly in this past year, was not really sustainable. We are going to be able to do a lot through 'soft diplomacy,' build relationships, and help these agencies, but with fewer dollars," Mr Tillerson said.

Efforts underminedStephane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said the US funding cuts could lead to the adoption of ad hoc measures that would undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts.

"The Secretary-General fully subscribes to the necessity to effectively combat terrorism, but believes that it requires more than military spending. There is also a need to address the underlying drivers of terrorism through continuing investments in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, countering violent extremism, peacekeeping, peace building, sustainable and inclusive development, the enhancement and respect of human rights, and timely responses to humanitarian crises," Mr Dujarric said, in response to the budget cuts.

The United States UN ambassador Nikki Haley however said that the US contribution to the agency is disproportionate."The UN spends more money than it should, and in many ways it places a much larger financial burden on the US than on other countries," Ms Haley said.

David Miliband, chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, described the proposed cuts to USAid as "counterproductive, misguided and dangerous."

"The roughly one-third cut in foreign aid endangered US values and interests abroad. What's more, the U.S. foreign assistance budget makes up a mere one per cent of the federal budget, a tiny category of discretionary spending, which saves lives and spreads goodwill around the world," Mr Miliband said.

Also at stake is the voluntary funding element of the UN, which touches on the most emergency and humanitarian work. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Children's and Education Fund (Unicef), and WFP all fall under this sector."While we will allow for funding of humanitarian assistance, including food aid, disaster, and refugee programme funding, we would focus it on the highest priority areas while asking the rest of the world to pay their fair share. The budget therefore eliminates the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance account, and challenges international and non-governmental relief organisations to become more efficient and effective," the budget statement says.UNHCR and WFP get about 40 per cent of their funding from the US, and they are currently providing relief food to those affected by drought in the Horn of Africa. Last year, UNHCR spent $1.4 billion on its work within the region, and the WFP spent $115 million at Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.

Funding shortageLast month, UNHCR's head of operations in Dadaab, Ahmed Fall, said that severe funding shortages in the camps had led to a reduction in food rations twice in the past three years. Donor countries have been financing the budget, but have scaled back.

Kenya, which received a $100 million military grant in 2015, will also revise their budget as President Trump proposes shifting some foreign military assistance from grants to loans in order to reduce cost to the US taxpayer. The country is currently trying to purchase $430 million worth of military arms from the US, in what analysts say is partially financed through a grant."This will potentially allow recipients to purchase more American-made weaponry with US assistance, but on a repayable basis," the statement says.

Multi-lateral development banks will face cuts through reduced funding to the World Bank by $650 million.The proposed budget is not all about cuts: Patients under the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief can breathe a sigh of relief after the draft budget showed that the US would maintain current commitments of about $7 billion. Programmes under the Global Fund for Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which have been credited with saving millions people in sub-Saharan Africa, will also continue to be supported.

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