3 December 2007 – Chronic funding shortfalls have become a serious issue for the main United Nations agency aiding Palestinian refugees, threatening the quality and continuation of vital services to some 4.5 million people, a senior official warned today.
“Lack of resources means that we are unable to employ enough teachers, health care and social workers to keep pace with a beneficiary population that is growing in both size and needs,” said Filippo Grandi, Deputy Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which aids 4.5 million people.
Addressing a meeting in New York on the plight of Palestinian refugees, he noted that one of the biggest threats to UNRWA’s operations is financial, given that it is funded almost exclusively by voluntary contributions from Member States. “While our donors have by and large kept faith with us over the years, chronic funding shortfalls have become a matter of serious concern.”
This year, the Agency is struggling with a budget deficit of some $92 million for its core programmes. In addition, its $246 million emergency appeal for Gaza and the West Bank in 2007 is currently a little more than half funded. “Budget shortfalls directly threaten the quality and even the continuation of our services,” he said.
Mr. Grandi noted that conflict and violence compound the social and economic difficulties of the refugees. “We operate in an unpredictable and unstable environment, in which, by contrast, we are expected to provide predictable and stable services.”
While acknowledging that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was an international challenge that needed to be addressed by political actors, he also stressed that it could only be solved if human rights and international humanitarian law were given a prominent place in the political discourse.
“The ultimate guarantee of the security of States is the safety, economic self-sufficiency and protection of all people, including the refugees,” he stated.
One of the oldest and largest of the UN agencies, UNRWA is not only a humanitarian organization but also the main provider of essential public services to a population spread across Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.