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Under-funding forces UNHCR to cut back, refocus

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Under-funding forces UNHCR to cut back, refocus

1 June 2001

GENEVA - The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has carried out a stringent prioritisation exercise and review of posts aimed at refocusing its core activities, bringing down spending and ultimately improving the agency's funding.

The best estimates for 2002 now show a budgetary target of $825 million, which is equivalent to the projected income for the year. Compared with this year's (2001) initial budget of $954.9 million, it represents a reduction of $130 million, or about 14 percent.

"What we have done is painful but absolutely necessary to make UNHCR a better focused, leaner and ultimately a better funded organisation," said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers - the architect of the plan.

UNHCR noted that some of the savings require reductions in the number of posts and the scaling back of field operations. But considerable savings also stem from the long-planned phasing down of UNHCR's involvement in certain regions of the world, such as East Timor or the Balkans.

Under the plan, the overall number of UNHCR posts is expected to go down from 4,828 today to 4,065 by the end of next year. The net result is the abolishment of 939 posts, offset by the creation of 174 new posts in areas vital for UNHCR's operations.

While every effort will be made to place UNHCR staff whose posts are being cut, a substantial number of UNHCR workers are expected to leave the organisation. UNHCR is currently looking at various options, such as early retirement and voluntary separation plans, to soften the impact of the belt-tightening exercise.

One vital part of the plan in the mid-term is to improve the funding of UNHCR's programmes. UNHCR's annual budget has been approved each year by the agency's 57-nation Executive Committee. But the OK for the budget did not necessarily mean that the very same governments would come up with the funds. Indeed, over the last few years UNHCR has endured annual shortfalls.

"When our stakeholders give us a job to do, they also have to make sure we have the adequate resources," said High Commissioner Lubbers.