Pictured: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, flags outside the UN. Images: Getty

The United Nations is facing its “worst cash crisis” in nearly a decade and risks defaulting on salaries by the end of November.

In a statement, spokesperson for the secretary-general, Stéphane Dujarric, called on member states to fulfil their budget commitments, warning that member states had only paid 70 per cent of the total assessment for the regular budget, down from 78 per cent at the same time in 2018.

“The secretariat could face a default on salaries and payments for goods and services by the end of November unless more member states pay their budget dues in full,” Dujarric said.

“The organisation runs the risk of depleting its liquidity reserves by the end of the month and defaulting on payments to staff and vendors. Stressing the charter obligation of member states, the secretary-general thanked the member states who have paid their regular budget assessments, which is now 129, and urged those who have not paid to do so urgently and in full.

“This is the only way to avoid a default that could risk disrupting operations globally.”

So far, the 129 countries have paid their 2019 dues which comes to nearly US$2 billion.

He said the UN has already shifted hiring patterns to reflect the lower cash reserves, adding that this measure among others is no longer enough.

“The secretary-general has therefore requested additional steps be taken immediately, including further reductions in official travel; postponing spending on goods and services; and discontinuing events scheduled outside official meeting hours at headquarters duty stations,” Dujarric said.

“In addition, conferences and meetings may have to be postponed or services be adjusted. He is reviewing further options.”

António Guterres also told the UN General Assembly’s budget committee that the organisation faces its “deepest deficit of the decade”.

“We risk … entering November without enough cash to cover payrolls,” he said, pointing to operations in New York, VIenna, Geneva and Nairobi.

“Our work and our reforms are at risk.”

Peacekeeping missions fall under a different budget.

USA’s tricky relationship with the UN

The US contributes the most to the UN’s budget, responsible for more than 22 per cent of the US$3.3 billion 2019 budget, but currently owes around US$381 million for earlier budgets and US$674 million for this budget.

Former US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, in November said the US was considering pulling back on its funding.

“There are times when we are tempted to believe that multilateralism has been a bad deal for the United States, that we could be more effective advancing our principles and interests on our own,” Haley told a Security Council debate.

“And there are times when that conclusion is correct.”

She said “aid dollars shouldn’t be on auto-pilot” and that the US would be considering its funding obligations, describing the US share was “disproportionate”.

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has seen the US cut funding to UNESCO, the UN Population Fund, the UN Relief and Works Agency.

“The United States is the world’s largest giver in the world, by far, of foreign aid. But few give anything to us,” Trump said in September last year.

“Moving forward, we are only going to give foreign aid to those who respect us and, frankly, are our friends. And we expect other countries to pay their fair share for the cost of their defense.”