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Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions to the High Commissioner's Programme (Pledging Conference), New York | Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Speeches and statements

Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions to the High Commissioner's Programme (Pledging Conference), New York | Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

13 November 1998

Mr. Chairman, distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is for me a pleasure to address once again this ad-hoc committee of the General Assembly for the announcement of voluntary contributions to the 1999 General Programme of my Office.

Let me start by analysing the evolution of our funding situation and some of the problems we have faced in the course of 1998.

The nature of our work demands that we continuously adjust budgets to fast-changing circumstances. In the past three years, the resolution of some long standing refugee problems has allowed us to progressively reduce our financial requirements, from a peak of 1.4 billion US dollars in 1996, to 1.2 billion US dollars in 1997, and to 995 million US dollars in 1998. These targets, however, have not been fully met. Overall contributions totalled 970 million US dollars in 1996 and 807 million US dollars in 1997. As a result, budgets established on the basis of needs have been repeatedly readjusted to match funding projections.

Funding levels are of course an element which we must take into consideration when planning and budgeting for our programmes. It is important, however, to strike a balance between the limitations imposed by decreasing funds, and the very broad range of needs we would like to address. I am very concerned that this balance is tilting - year after year - towards funding imperatives rather than the needs of refugees. We are increasingly compelled to reduce the scope of our activities beyond the actual decrease in refugee problems, and beyond what is reasonable to expect of my Office, even if we depend on voluntary contributions.

The evolution of the General Programme budget in 1998 is a good indication of the difficulties we face. The initial target of 440 million US dollars was brought down to 429 million US dollars earlier this year. However, realising that even this target might indeed be difficult to fund, we made considerable budgetary cuts, froze some of our reserve funds and actually operated on a budget of 370 million US dollars. Because of the nature of our work, this substantial reduction was not simply an accounting exercise. It meant - in very concrete terms - that we were not able to meet some of the real needs of refugees, returnees and other displaced persons. In some instances, we have had to cut or suspend existing activities, and concentrated exclusively on the most vital priorities. We will get to the end of the year with barely sufficient funds to cover these activities - but the cost, in human terms, has been great. And there is an additional problem which I must highlight. So far, 358.7 million US dollars are available under the 1998 General Programme, including contributions and secondary income. Our projections indicate that we may raise another 9 million US dollars before the end of the year. We shall thus be left with a net shortfall of approximately 3 million US dollars by 31 December 1998. This means that my Office will start 1999 with hardly any pre-financing capacity for the General Programme.

The situation is similar with respect to Special Programmes. Some operations are severely underfunded: in Afghanistan and in West Africa, for example. Targets are still far from being met in key operations such as in the Great Lakes region, or in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In some cases, the shortfall has persisted even after drastically reducing our activities, at times a very painful exercise: I will only mention the example of Rwanda, a country where returnees constitute 25% of the population, and where we had to actually suspend unfinished housing and school construction schemes.

Mr. Chairman, because of the decrease in scope of some refugee operations, and also the decline in funding, by the end of the year we will have reduced staffing levels by about one thousand posts since 1996. Although we pride ourselves on being a flexible organization, adapting to the ever changing circumstances of our work, such a large retrenchment does not go without a serious impact on the morale and effectiveness of all staff, and of our implementing partners.

It is therefore imperative that, during this difficult transition period, the support given to my Office be as substantial and constant as possible, so that the people for whom we work - refugees and other displaced people - do not suffer unduly. Abrupt funding reductions are not helpful, and do not allow the change process on which we have embarked to be consolidated at all levels.

Last year, in an effort to present our activities in a comprehensive, coherent manner, UNHCR issued a Global Appeal setting out General and Special Programme requirements for 1998. The Global Appeal for next year, 1999, will be published by mid-December. We are also working with members of our Executive Committee to review UNHCR's budget structure, in order to address some of the shortcomings and artificial distinctions that have developed between General and Special Programmes. I expect this exercise to result in an enlargement of our core programmes. I look forward to your suggestions on how to adapt pledging mechanisms to these changes.

Mr. Chairman, the Executive Committee, on 9 October 1998, approved a target of 413 million US dollars for the 1999 General Programme. Special Programmes will total approximately 500 million US dollars. Let me draw your attention to the lack of pre-financing capacity for 1999, that I have already mentioned. In announcing your pledges and planning for future ones, I would like to ask you to take into careful consideration our cash needs during the first months of next year.

Before concluding, let me also repeat what I said in my opening statement at the meeting of the Executive Committee last month. Our effectiveness depends not only on the level, but also the quality of funding. When planning your contributions for 1999, two key aspects should be kept in mind: flexibility and predictability.

I appreciate that governments have their priorities in the allocation of funds. Flexibility, however, is indispensable in responding to emergencies and changing needs. I would like to request all donors to weigh their need to earmark contributions against their demand that we perform effectively. On the other hand, this year, funds were often contributed very late, making it sometimes impossible to even know whether resources to carry out some of our activities would be available in the next few days. Predictability of funding is decreasing. I am concerned by this trend, which makes planning much more difficult.

Mr Chairman, I am very grateful for the continued support provided by governments to my Office. The fact that contributions are almost entirely voluntary requires on our part considerable fund raising efforts. I believe this is useful, motivates us to constantly improve the quality of our work, and helps focus the world's attention on refugee problems. I have elaborated on the impact on UNHCR's activities of some of today's trends in multilateral funding. I hope that together we shall be able to seek and find better ways to mobilize resources needed to protect and assist all those forcibly displaced, and to support our commitment to the cause of refugees.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.