PARIS - UNESCO is in its "worst ever financial situation" after its biggest contributor the United States froze funding last year, the director general of the United Nations' cultural agency said on Thursday.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization was plunged into crisis in October 2011 when Washington, an ally of Israel, cancelled its grant in protest at the body's decision to grant the Palestinians full membership.
The UN body has been forced to slash spending, freeze job hires and cut programs after losing the US funding, which had made up 22 percent of its budget, UNESCO's Irina Bokova told reporters.
The organization, which designates World Heritage sites, promotes global education and supports press freedom among other tasks, had started the year with a deficit of $150 million out of $653 million for its budget over 2012 and 2013, Bokova said.
"It's crippling our capacity to deliver," she added.
"We are coping in very difficult circumstances. We're fundraising this year, but it's not sustainable on a long-term basis. We're not closing UNESCO, but member states will have to rethink the way forward. UNESCO will be crippled."
US legislation prohibits funding to any UN agency that grants full membership to any group that does not have "internationally recognized attributes" of statehood.
As a result of the vote on the Palestinians, the US administration, which pays its dues at the end of the year, immediately withdrew its funding to the Paris-based agency.
Bokova said it was in US interests to be part of UNESCO and hoped Washington would review its position before next year when it would be stripped of voting rights for not paying its dues.
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