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UK sharply cuts global aid due to pandemic's economic impact

Last Updated Apr 29, 2021 at 7:47 pm PDT

CAMEROON, Cameroon — The United Kingdom said Thursday it is temporarily reducing its international aid from 14.5 billion pounds (about $20 billion) last year to 10 billion pounds this year ($14 billion) because of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and two U.N. agencies announced huge funding cuts of more than 80 per cent.

The U.N. Population Fund, which now calls itself the U.N.’s sexual and reproductive health agency, said it had been informed that its flagship family planning program was being cut from 154 million pounds ($211 million) to around 23 million pounds ($32 million). In addition, it said 12 million pounds ($17 million) is being cut from its core operating funds.

The agency, known as UNFPA, said the UK was its largest bilateral donor in 2020, providing a total of about $138 million.

UNAIDS, which unites the work of 11 U.N. organizations trying to reduce HIV infections and deaths to zero, said its funding for 2021 was reduced from 15 million pounds ($21 million) in 2020 to 2.5 million pounds ($3.5 million) for 2021.

In 2020, the UK was the world’s third largest aid donor, spending 14.5 billion pounds (about $20 billion).

“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,” a British government spokesman said, speaking with customary anonymity.

“We will still spend more than 10 billion pounds ($14 billion) this year to fight poverty, tackle climate change and improve global health,” the spokesman said. “We are working with suppliers and partners on what this means for individual programs.”

UNFPA said it had anticipated $322 million from the UK for its family planning program for 2021 and 2022, and the loss of $180 million will have a huge impact.

“These cuts will be devastating for women and girls and their families across the world,” UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem said.

The approximately 85 per cent cut to the family planning program “would have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions,” she said.

Kanem said UNFPA recognizes “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.”

UNAIDS said the UK has been a leader in the fight against AIDS and expressed deep regret at the more than 80% funding cut though it also recognized the challenging situation.

The agency said it is assessing the impact of the cut and will work with the UK and partners “to explore ways to ensure continuity and predictability of funding.”

Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press