UNICEF Australia has criticised a new raft of cuts to international aid programs saying gains made to save children’s lives will be lost.
The $1 billion cuts to Australia’s foreign aid, announced in Tuesday’s budget, include a 40 per cent reduction to UNICEF program funding.
UNICEF Australia International Programs Manager Felicity Wever said program managers had already counted the human cost of previous aid cuts and are discouraged and disheartened to hear of new cuts.
“Our colleagues in Zimbabwe, for example, have already said the risk of disease outbreaks is now very real following cuts in 2013 to water programs,” Ms Wever said.
Ms Wever said a program to install and manage clean water for small communities across Zimbabwe was cut by $1.06 million in 2013.
“Deeper cuts to this program and many more like it are putting lives at risk,” Ms Wever said, adding a cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe in 2008 cost more than 4000 lives and was the kind of health risk the country would again face.
UNICEF is among a number of international aid and humanitarian agencies that will have to scale back programs due to the foreign aid cuts. Budget figures have revealed that by 2016-17 Australian aid contributions as a share of national income will fall to 22c in every $100, the lowest rate in recorded history.
“Aid accounts for about 1 per cent of the Federal Budget but has consistently shouldered disproportionate budget cuts,” Ms Wever said.
“Rightly so, we’re hearing the message from our colleagues and partners on the ground, that they believe these cuts to Australian aid are unfair.”
UNICEF Australia said Sustainable Development Goals to be announced later this year would continue to focus on reducing poverty and build on gains made by the Millennium Development Goals. However, Australia’s contribution to this global effort is well below the global expectation target of 0.7% GNI.
“The work of UNICEF and its partners to end preventable child deaths, to bring clean water to communities, to end HIV transmissions in newborns, to protect children from serious cases of exploitation and respond in emergencies must go on,” Ms Wever said.
“But the pressures to do it and to reach every child are keenly felt by our program staff who have had to absorb foreign aid cuts and will be expected to absorb more.”