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Inter Press Service, July 11, 2007

U.S. Funding For UN Population Continues to Stumble

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 11 (IPS) - As the United Nations commemorated World Population Day Wednesday, the United States remains the only major donor that continues to cut off funds to the only international agency focusing primarily on population: the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

"It is truly disheartening to know that the United States, once a global leader, is the only country to ever withhold money from UNFPA for reasons that are not financial," Angeline Martyn of Americans for UNFPA told IPS.

"We look forward to a time when the United States can again call itself a leader for the health and dignity of women," she added.

Since 2002, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has withheld about 161 million dollars in funding, the bulk of it appropriated by the U.S. Congress.

Relenting to pressure from right-wing neo-conservatives, the Bush administration has slashed funds based on a false claim that UNFPA supports coercive abortion in China.

A U.S. grassroots movement called "34 Million Friends of UNFPA" says the decision was taken "despite recommendations made by a (U.S.) State Department fact-finding team to release the funds."

The State Department team investigated UNFPA-supported projects in China and submitted a report stating, "based on what we heard, saw, and read, we find no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a programme of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation in the PRC [People's Republic of China]."

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid has repeatedly stated that her agency has never -- and will never -- be involved in coercion in China or any part of the world.

She says UNFPA is a staunch supporter, and promoter, of the human rights-based approach to family planning.

Asked if a change in the White House after January 2009 (from a Republican to a Democrat U.S. president) would bring the United States back to the UNFPA fold, Martyn told IPS: "The majority of Americans support the work of UNFPA, and we are hopeful that a new president, Republican or Democrat, will listen to the views of voters and support UNFPA.''

She also said her organisation recently distributed a "Release the Funds" petition online and supporters from nearly every state in the U.S. have signed on to ask President Bush to restore funding to UNFPA.

Asked if U.S. private funding for UNFPA has increased over the years while U.S. administration de-funding continues, Martyn said: "Comparing private philanthropy and public sector investment in global development is like comparing apples and oranges."

She pointed out there is a role for both government and private philanthropy to provide support for UNFPA.

Private philanthropy in the United States has not filled the gap of the 161 million dollars withheld from UNFPA since 2002, "and it is not the role of private philanthropy to (help) fund voluntary allocations by governments to U.N. agencies," said Martyn, who is communications manager for Americans for UNFPA.

Private philanthropy alone is not sufficient to meet the tremendous global needs for the health and dignity of women. Government support for UNFPA from countries worldwide is vital both financially and morally, she added.

Meanwhile, over 100,000 individuals and donors have contributed nearly 3.5 million dollars to the 34 Million Friends of UNFPA campaign, which was started in July 2002 by two women in the United States, Lois Abraham of New Mexico and Jane Roberts of California.

Although they had never met, Abrahan and Roberts said they had been "outraged" by the U.S. withdrawal of funds for UNPFA.

Both started their own email campaigns, urging men and women across the United States to donate one dollar or more to help bridge the funding gap.

Their goal: "To find 34 million friends to help UNFPA continue its invaluable work as the largest multilateral provider of family planning and maternal health care."

Meanwhile, other donors have continued to increase their funding to UNFPA. In 2006, 180 countries contributed a total of 360 million dollars to the regular resources of UNFPA.

This was the highest number of donor nations and the largest amount of contributions to UNFPA since the organisation began its operations in 1969, according to a statement released by the agency.

"We are very thankful for the continuous and growing support from nearly all U.N. member states," UNFPA's Obaid said. "We take this new record as a solid sign of the global commitment to our work and mandate. It also highlights the importance of sexual and reproductive health, as well as HIV prevention, for development."

The statement also said that the number of UNFPA donor countries has steadily increased over the last few years, from 69 in 1999; to 172 in 2005; to last year's new high of 180.

The top six donors were the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Britain, Japan and Denmark. In addition, every nation in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as all of sub-Saharan Africa, pledged funds to UNFPA in 2006.

"Achieving universal access to reproductive health is vital for poverty eradication, and it requires partnerships and efforts from governments and the civil society," said Obaid.

"Seeing so many different countries supporting our work is heart-warming, and I hope this support will continue to grow in the years to come," she added.

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