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Funding shortfall threatens UNHCR operations

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Funding shortfall threatens UNHCR operations

22 October 2002

22 October 2002

GENEVA - Faced with a fourth-quarter shortfall, the UN refugee agency warned today it could be forced next month to halt a number of its operations unless donor governments provide immediate funding.

UNHCR's budget has increased this year, primarily because of the huge needs in Afghanistan. While the Afghanistan programme has been fully funded, others - particularly in Africa - are suffering.

To get through the remainder of this year, UNHCR still needs $80 million to maintain at least minimum standards for refugees under its already twice-reduced Annual Programme Budget.

At the start of this year, the agency needed to raise $802 million for its annual budget approved in October 2001 by the member states that make up its governing Executive Committee. When it became apparent in mid-2002 that contributions were not matching needs, UNHCR first reduced its budget to $726 million in July, and then again last week by another $16 million to $710 million. In all, some $92 million in cuts have already been made this year in the annual budget, affecting both headquarters and the field.

"These cuts have been extremely painful and have affected refugees and our work on their behalf around the world," said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers. "Amid growing needs, UNHCR is struggling to meet the minimum requirements of millions of refugees. I now urgently call on donor governments to help us ensure that refugees get the help they deserve through the end of the year."

In a letter sent to top donor governments last week, UNHCR warned that if no new contributions were received by the end of October, it would be unable to provide field operations with the necessary funds they need to carry out their work for November and December. This could mean a further reduction in operations. Planning for field operations in specific countries requires substantial lead time. Currently, however, the unpredictable cash flow means the agency is unable to confirm to its field offices that they will be able to carry out their plans. This "hand-to-mouth" situation has led to frustration among field staff and leaves the agency with little or no cushion to deal with any new emergencies.

UNHCR's 5,000 staff help nearly 20 million refugees and others of concern in 114 countries. More than 80 percent of the agency's staff serve in the field, about 60 percent of them in difficult and often dangerous "non-family duty stations."

In addition to its annual programme budget, UNHCR this year had to deal with an increase of $217 million, most of it to help more than 1.7 million Afghans to go home and start rebuilding their lives. The agency consistently stresses that any funding for such supplementary programmes should be additional to donor support for UNHCR's broader annual budget. Nevertheless, additional needs are not always fully met through additional funds, which negatively affects the agency's annual programmes in Africa and elsewhere.

"Our most pressing needs are clearly in Africa right now," said Lubbers, who noted that Secretary-General Kofi Annan had also recently contacted donors on UNHCR's behalf and had specifically cited Africa's plight. "We have numerous protracted refugee situations there that are largely forgotten by the international community, as well as several new crises in West Africa, the Great Lakes and the East and Horn. Many of our programmes in Africa and elsewhere were already struggling because of the previous cuts."

Imminent or already completed UNHCR cuts are resulting in additional hardship for refugees world-wide. Affected programmes range from water, health, education and agricultural projects for Eritrean refugees and a reduction in security in Tanzanian camps to cuts in the provision of winter clothes for children in the Caucasus and the cancellation of a planned relocation of refugees in Thailand and Papua New Guinea currently staying in insecure border regions.