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UNESCO struggles to tighten its belt

In November, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, had to launch an emergency set of measures to compensate for the immediate shortfalls in UNESCO’s budget, prompted by the US decision to withhold its dues. Bound by national legislation dating back to the 1990s, the United States announced that they would “refrain from making contributions to UNESCO after the admission of Palestine as a UNESCO member state on 31 October 2011".

The subsequent shortfall in UNESCO’s budget amounts to USD 65 million (~EUR 48.5 million) by the end of 2011 and a further gap of 22% in its USD 653 million (~EUR 487.5 million) budget for the period 2012-2013. Israel has also withheld its contribution of USD 1.5 million (~EUR 1.1 million), or 0.3% of UNESCO’s budget, for the same period. A thorough review of all activities planned by UNESCO for November and December is underway. In addition, a number of extraordinary steps to support core activities of UNESCO has been proposed at UNESCO’s General Conference, including 

  • the launch of a website allowing member states, public institutions, foundations and citizens to donate to UNESCO (e.g. Gabon has donated USD 2 million or ~EUR 1.5 million; Indonesia, USD 10 million or ~EUR 7.5 million); 
  • a request to member states for an increase in UNESCO’s Working Capital Fund for 2012-2013 from USD 30 million (~EUR 22.5 million) to USD 65 million (~EUR 48.5 million); 
  • an appeal to all governments to provide their assessed contributions as early as possible in 2012; 
  • a suggestion to defer the system by which those member states that pay their dues on time benefit from a reduction.

For the time being, it is unclear how and to what extent the reduction in UNESCO’s funding will impact the organisation’s ongoing and planned activities in the area of higher education.

UNESCO UNESCO, donation website U.S. Department of State