A key committee in the US House of Representatives passed a budget this week that would significantly underfund UN programs, including the very UN agencies that provided critical support for the US-backed liberation of Mosul.
The bill totally zeroes out a funding account from which the United States pays a number of UN agencies, including the UN Development Program (UNDP), UN Environment (UNEP), UN Women, UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Green Climate Fund, and UN Fund for Victims of Torture.
Some of these programs –like UNFPA and the Green Climate Fund– are often caught up in the domestic American politics. Social conservatives tend to (wrongly) believe that the UN Population Fund supports abortion, or they are more generally oppose making contraception more widely available. The Green Climate Fund is caught up in the political debate over climate change, which a significant number of Republicans in congress tend to dismiss is an important global issue.
But these other programs, including the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), have never been so controversial. In fact, the United States has historically been one of the top donors to these programs, presumably out of the belief that they both advance American interests and uphold American values.
OCHA, for example, is the UN’s crisis response nerve center. When a disaster strikes, OCHA coordinates between various NGOs, government agencies and UN humanitarian agencies (like the World Food Program, the UN Refugee Agency and UNICEF) to mount a response.
Just this week, the work of both OCHA and UNDP were on full display as Iraqi forces, backed by the United States, liberated the city of Mosul from ISIS.
For several months prior to the assault on Mosul, the UN’s office in Iraq, under the leadership of UNDP’s Lise Grande who serves as the overall UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, had been planning for the humanitarian fallout of civilians caught in the crossfire. While the fallout for civilians has been huge, the UN’s work helped mitigate the suffering and prevented this crisis from spiraling out of control.
Today, the UN is providing relief for civilians as Iraqi security forces are solidifying their hold on a liberated Mosul. Without the UN there–and without robust funding for the UNDP and OCHA — the situation would be far more volatile, making the fight against ISIS far more difficult.
Jeremy Konyndyk was the top US humanitarian relief official in the Obama administration when preparations for the humanitarian fallout of an attack on Mosul began.
The funding measure passed by the House Appropriations Committee would zero out an account called the “International Organizations and Programs (IO&P)” account. This is about a $330 million funding stream that pays for US contributions to several agencies, including UNDP and OCHA. The US can still make contributions to these two agencies through other funding mechanisms, but this cut still hurts. Last year UNDP received $80 million out of a total US contributions of $113.6 million from this account. This cut would be devastating.
The point is, sharply cutting the funding of agencies like OCHA and UNDP is an incredibly irresponsible move. (Not to mention underfunding UN Peacekeeping, threatening missions in places like Mali and South Sudan.) Fortunately, the Senate is likely to take a more moderate approach than the House of Representatives and restore this funding stream, at least in part.
The problem is, any cuts to these programs impedes their ability to do their job–and their “job” is to keep people alive and safe in times of crisis, including in places like Iraq.