By Kanishka Singh
(Reuters) - The United Kingdom aims to cut about 85% in aid to a United Nations family planning programme in the world's poorest nations, the U.N. sexual and reproductive health agency UNFPA said late on Wednesday, describing the step as "devastating".
An initial commitment by the UK to spend 154 million pounds ($214.58 million) on UNFPA Supplies this year will be shrunk to just 23 million pounds, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The UNFPA Supplies is the agency's flagship programme for family planning.
"These cuts will be devastating for women and girls and their families across the world", UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem said in a statement.
"With the now-withdrawn 130 million GBP (180 million USD), the UNFPA Supplies Partnership would have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions", Kanem added.
Twelve million pounds will also be cut from UNFPA's core operating funds, the statement said.
The development was reported earlier by Sky News. The Guardian reported on Wednesday that the UK will slash funding for lifesaving water, sanitation and hygiene projects in developing nations by more than 80%.
The United Kingdom's foreign office told Reuters on Wednesday that Britain will temporarily be reducing the amount it spends on aid due to the "seismic" impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the UK economy.
"We are working through what this means for individual programmes. Decisions will be announced in due course", a foreign office representative said in an emailed statement.
"We will still spend more than £10 billion this year to fight poverty, tackle climate change and improve global health."
Britain's government will cut down its commitment to foreign aid spending, pledging to spend 0.5% of gross domestic product on aid in 2021 as opposed to the 0.7% promised previously, finance minister Rishi Sunak said in November.
($1 = 0.7177 pounds)
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Sabahatjahan Contractor; Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool)