Chapter Two examines the overall expenditure of the entire UN system in 2018.

Expenditure by geography

Having explored the revenue coming into the UN system, Chapter Two looks at how the UN invests these revenues. It shows that UN system’s expenditure increased from US$ 51.6 billion in 2017 to US$ 52.7 billion in 2018 (see Table 5 in the full report). The two entities with the largest nominal growth in expenditure were the same two that saw the largest growth in revenue: the expenditure of WFP increased by US$ 0.6 billion, while that of the UN Secretariat rose by US$ 0.4 billion.

As for geographical priorities, the region with the fastest growth in expenditure was Western Asia, with an increase in nominal terms from US$ 2.2 billion in 2011 to US$ 8.3 billion in 2018 (see Figure 22). At the same time, this region’s percentage share of total expenditure more than doubled, from 10% to 23%. Much of this growth was due to the Syrian crisis and its impact on refugee-hosting neighbours (from 2012), and to the deepening humanitarian crisis in Yemen (especially from 2017).

Figure 22: Expenditure on UN operational activities by region,
2011–2018
Amount linked to the SDGs US$ 18.5 billion
35% of total UN expenditure

Expenditure linked to the SDGs

This year, for the first time, the report features data on expenditure by six UN entities linked to the SDGs (see Figures 23-29 in the full report). Overall, the data shows that 2018 saw a healthy start in terms of SDG reporting, with the six showcased agencies together linking US$ 18.5 billion to the SDGs – more than half the total amount spent on UN operational activities. The International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and WFP reported 100% of their expenditure as being linked to the SDGs. Furthermore, all three had a single SDG goal – the one closest to the respective organisation’s mandate – to which the majority of expenditure was linked.

Expenditure in crisis-affected countries

When measured against income status, on average, expenditure is largest in low-income countries. A total of 47% of expenditure on operational activities in 2018 took place in this group of countries.

The most visible concentration of the UN’s operational activities is, however, to be seen in the exactly one-third (54) of UN programme countries defined as crisis-affected. Expenditure in this group of countries was 81% of total UN country-level expenditure. Most such countries are characterised by protracted crisis and have been in this category since at least 2010.

The visualisation enables exploration of how the placement of countries has changed over the past nine years, and how the mix of humanitarian, development and peace expenditures has varied as well over time.