UNESCO won't take on new projects this year

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2011 1:47 PM
UNESCO won't take on new projects this year

UNESCO won't take on any new projects until the end of the year, an official said Thursday, after the U.S. pulled its substantial contributions from the U.N. cultural agency to protest its acceptance of Palestine as a member.

Any projects already committed to will be carried out, the official said. No decisions have been made about how the organization will proceed next year.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The organization has launched an appeal for members and outside organizations to fill the gap. The tiny West African nation of Gabon stepped up, offering $2 million in the closing session of UNESCO's annual General Conference.

In a dramatic vote last month, Palestine won full membership at the agency, part of its push to win greater international recognition amid despair at the slow progress of peace negotiations with Israel.

After the measure passed, the room erupted in cheers, but reality quickly set in.

UNESCO, which protects historic heritage sites and works to improve literacy, access to schooling for girls and cultural understanding, is clearly scrambling after the loss of its biggest donor. Canada and Israel have also pulled funding, though they donate far less.

The U.S. typically provides one-fifth of the agency's annual budget _ some $80 million, three-quarters of which it hadn't yet handed over for this year and won't.

On Wednesday, Director-General Irina Bokova laid out a series of proposals for how the organization might make up for the loss.

While she said her appeal was urgent, she expressed confidence the difficulties would be overcome.

"I use the word 'difficulties' deliberately," she said. "This is not a crisis. This is a new situation."

Among the proposals was the launch of an emergency fund to solicit donations from foundations and individuals as well as member-states. A bright orange button calling on visitors to "Donate NOW!" was already on the organization's website Thursday.

Bokova said the agency would also tap its reserve fund _ $30 million set aside to weather such storms _ and has asked that fund to be increased to $65 million. Any contributions would be voluntary, she said, and would eventually be repaid.

She also asked members to pay their 2012 dues as early as possible.