President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the United Nations, which runs agencies such as the World Food Program and UNICEF, come at a time when famine is reaching a crisis point in parts of Africa. The timing of the proposed cuts has sent chills through the international aid community, which fears that a retreat by the U.S. in relief funding could make a bad situation worse.
Just days before Trump’s budget was released, U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien warned that the globe is facing its worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Two years of drought and failed rains across much of Africa have affected 38 million people in 17 countries.
For decades, the U.S. has been the largest supporter of the World Food Program as part of a bipartisan congressional commitment to averting famine and starvation. In 2016, the U.S. paid 24% of the food program’s $8.6-billion budget, or about $2 billion. At present levels, the U.S. also funds 40% of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 22% of the U.N. Secretariat, as well as 28% of the cost of U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Ben Parker, an analyst and editor at IRIN, a news agency specializing in humanitarian issues, said the U.S. humanitarian contribution was large in dollar terms, but in terms of the percentage of its economy, “the U.S. is not very generous.”
Scott Paul, senior policy adviser at the humanitarian agency Oxfam, said Trump’s budget blueprint sent tremors of alarm through the humanitarian community. “The message that it sends is that the U.S. is no longer interested in leading or being part of global efforts to mitigate suffering in the world,” he said.
[Los Angeles Times]