Bush administration stiffs UN population agency

UNITED NATIONS — In a move that could cost the lives of tens of thousands of people, the Bush administration has refused to give a penny to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the agency’s recently published 2004 report shows. All previous U.S. administrations have supported the fund since its inception.

The agency’s goal is to “promote the right of every man, woman and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity … to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with respect.”

The agency works in nearly 140 nations to address commitments made in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, an event hailed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as “a landmark conference [that] produced a visionary and comprehensive action plan that linked poverty alleviation to women’s empowerment, gender equality and universal access to reproductive health.”

Due to the work of groups like UNFPA over the past 10 years, infant mortality rates have dropped from 71 to 61 out of every 1,000 babies born; life expectancy in the developing world has risen by two years; the percentage of people in the developing world with access to contraceptives has climbed from 55 percent to 60 percent; and there has been a reduction in female genital cutting and rape.

For the first time ever, contributions from member states to the UNFPA amounted to more than $500 million. Virtually all nations, from the richest to the poorest, contributed, and the number of contributing states grew from 149 in 2003 to 166 in 2004. Even nations who themselves are in need of assistance made symbolic contributions, including Afghanistan, Laos and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

This makes the absence of U.S. support even more conspicuous.

For the past three years, Congress has allocated $34 million dollars for the UNFPA. However, the Bush administration refuses to release the funds, due to administration claims that the agency supports forced abortions in China. These claims are demonstrably false.

Omar Gharzeddine, an information officer at UNFPA, told the World that numerous fact-finding missions were sent to China by various agencies, and none of them found any evidence of Bush’s assertion. In fact, he said, “In 2002, the U.S. State Department sent an assessment team and found that the UNFPA did not support or participate in any programs of coerced abortion. The team then recommended that the funds allocated by Congress be released, but this didn’t happen.”

According to a statement issued by UNFPA, the U.S. decision to deny the $34 million has taken a heavy toll. “$34 million could have helped prevent as many as 2 million unwanted pregnancies and nearly 800,000 abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths and over 77,000 infant and child deaths in many countries,” the statement said. “The funds could also have been used to scale up promising maternal health and HIV-prevention efforts.”

The U.S., the statement continued, is the only country to deny funding to UNFPA for “non-budgetary” reasons.