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Germany Is Ready to Cut Humanitarian Aid to UN Agencies and Elsewhere

Soon after the recent torrential rains and flooding hit Pakistan, the UN sent such emergency relief items as tents, sleeping mats and solar lamps. But while UN humanitarian and development agencies contend with a wider range of increasing demands in crisis countries, the German parliament, a traditionally generous donor to such UN operations, is previewing a proposed federal budget that could cut the country’s 2023 contributions to these programs by nearly $400 million. UNHCR/PAKISTAN

Food prices may still be soaring in crisis-prone countries, but Germany is poised to slash its 2023 contribution to global humanitarian and crisis prevention by nearly $400 million.

According to data compiled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food prices are 13.1 percent higher now than they were at this time last year.

Much of Germany’s development spending is captured in the budget for its Federal Foreign Office (FFO) and its Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The cabinet submitted a proposed budget to the country’s parliament on Aug. 5. The first reading is scheduled for Sept. 7.

Under the proposal, the overall budget for the Federal Foreign Office could be slashed 710 million euros, or about $716.4 million. Meanwhile, the core allocation to German defense will remain flat in nominal terms until 2026, but a special fund of 100 billion euros to modernize its military was approved by the German parliament in June. The fund is to be spent within five years and will go toward Germany meeting its NATO commitment of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense — deemed a critical obligation amid Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The foreign office was authorized to spend 3 billion euros in 2022 on humanitarian aid and crisis prevention. With its proposed budget of 6.40 billion euros, funding for crucial international agencies like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Program would likely shrink. According to an announcement published on the German parliament’s website, the Federal Foreign Office could end up with only 2.52 billion euros for its humanitarian and crisis prevention programs.

The German government has been a steady, generous voluntary donor to numerous UN agencies, and the cuts may shock their operations. (Separately, Germany is a top donor to the UN’s general budget, based on a scale of assessed contributions approved by the UN General Assembly. The top ranking for the 2019-2021 budget is as follows: United States, 22 percent; China, 12 percent; Japan, 8.564 percent; and Germany, 6.090 percent. Together, these mandatory contributions finance approximately 49 percent of UN operations.)

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees received $228.6 million from Germany in 2022. Part of that funding came from the BMZ, and the draft spending proposal showed a 1.3 billion euro decrease for the ministry.

The major elements of the budget, prepared by Finance Minister Christian Lindner, were first presented to the German cabinet on March 24, one month after Russia invaded Ukraine, and not all cabinet members support it.

“The war in the world’s breadbasket is having a dramatic impact on global nutrition,” Development Minister Svenja Schulze, a member of Germany’s center-left Social Democrats party, was quoted as saying by the broadcast news service DW, or Deutsche Welle. “Even before the war broke out,” she said, “the Covid pandemic affected the poorest countries, adding to the burden on their health systems and economies. And all this was on top of the climate crisis, which is hitting the world’s poorest countries the hardest, with droughts, storms, floods, and crop failures.”

Although prices for food, gas and oil are beginning to soften globally, they have not dropped to their levels at this time last year. Meanwhile, international development agencies have not received more funding to cope with heightened costs in many of the conflict spots in which they work. For instance, the price of millet, a staple grain in Niger, rose by more than 50 percent after Russia’s full-fledged war on Ukraine started on Feb. 24, 2022.

“What we have seen with Ukraine and other crises this year is that needs have risen dramatically, and, so far, funding has not risen nearly enough to meet those needs,” Olga Sarrado Mur, a spokesperson for the UNHCR, told PassBlue. “Without sufficient funding, lifesaving assistance will be reduced or discontinued, cutting a vital lifeline for displaced people.”

The Federal Foreign Office’s budget cuts are expected to not only hit the UN’s various humanitarian aid and development agencies but also Germany’s contributions to peacekeeping, although it is unclear from the German document whether this involves UN peacekeeping. (That UN budget is separate from its general operating budget but is also mandatory and based on GDP.) Germany’s foreign ministry was authorized to make payments of 969.67 million euros to the “United Nations and the international arena.” Under the proposed budget for 2023, that amount has dropped to 822.2 million euros, a difference of 147.47 million.

In total, spending on the UN and peacekeeping budgets would drop from 4.07 billion to 3.43 billion euros, or 640 million euros.

In an emailed response to PassBlue in August, Holger Dreiseitl, the spokesperson for the German mission to the UN in New York City, said that in 2020 Germany directed extra funds into multilateral organizations to deal with the pandemic, but that these increased expenditures are expected to drop in 2023.

“Germany remains fully committed to supporting the United Nations and its agencies in their vital work to promote sustainable development and fight off global crises,” his email said. “It would be misleading to read the 2023 draft budget, which has entered the process of parliamentary scrutiny, as a departure from Germany’s proven multilateral development cooperation.”

In July, some aid agencies operating in the Sahel region of West Africa told PassBlue that they were facing difficulties finding money to provide urgent help to the area’s vulnerable populations. Aid to Ukraine, they said, was making it hard to offset increased prices for food and energy elsewhere in the world, notably in Africa.

“While attention is focused on some of the world’s biggest crises in Syria, Afghanistan and, most recently, Ukraine, other emergencies — many in Africa — have failed to attract the same attention, support and resources. Notably, 12 of UNHCR’s operations including Ethiopia, Uganda, Iraq, Yemen, Colombia, and others, are particularly exposed to long-term underfunding; 43 percent of those UNHCR serves live in these countries,” said Olga Sarrado Mur, a UNHCR senior communications officer.

If other Western powers follow Germany’s lead, the UN agency said that it feared far-reaching effects: more malnutrition and rising gender-based violence, child marriages, labor exploitation and increased tensions and unrest.

With energy prices likely to rise in Europe over the winter if the war in Ukraine rages on, Germany is expected to concentrate much of its aid domestically. It has already announced an initial 50 billion euro package for its citizens. That’s money that it cannot make available to other parts of the world.

This article was updated on Sept. 8 to better reflect the German budget allocations to peacekeeping. 


We welcome your comments on this article.  What do you think of Germany's proposed cuts?

Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.

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