Transcript of Press Conference Following the Major Donors and Host Governments Meeting
Amman, Jordan 25 September 2002
Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General:
“As you all probably know we are about to finish our Major Donors Meeting here in Amman. Right now there are some side meetings going on covering specific topics - on education, on rebuilding Jenin, on refugees registration. But the main part of the meeting took place yesterday and this morning and was very much influenced by the concern of all the participants about the situation in the Occupied Territories. All of the donors expressed a great deal of worry about the current situation, which in the light of the recent events in Gaza [overnight incursions by the Israeli military] and the ongoing events in Ramallah [the siege of the Mukataa], is on every body’s mind.
The very difficult situation we are living through has greatly increased the demands on UNRWA’s services and as usual UNRWA is facing a situation where the demand on our services is out-paced by the flow of resources to UNRWA. This means that we are again facing a growing deficit. Until this year, we had, over the past five years, an average growth rate in our income of 5 per cent per year. This year we have seen a 3% decline, so the hopes that I expressed last year that we had turned the corner and we were now on the way towards a more sustainable financial basis has unfortunately has been disappointed. As of now, we are facing a 3 per cent decline in funding, but I still hope that countries will pay up for the rest of the year so that we can at least meet our own planning assumptions of 5 per cent growth.
The only sign of encouragement is that the deficit we are is much less that we faced three, four, five years ago. So we should still be optimistic that the world recognises the needs of the Palestinian Refugees and they have not forgotten about them. The projected funding gap will be $16.7 million and we expect a total income of $279 million.
However, in addition to our general fund we have to worry about the emergency in the occupied territories, and here we have appealed for $170 million and we have only had about half of that pledged, maybe $87.5 million. What we have actually received, what we have in our pockets is only $46 million, a little more than a quarter of what we appealed for – and fully $30 million of that came from one single donor – the United States. So we run a real risk that we will have to cancel food distributions, that we will have to stop emergency employment programs, and other activities, if we do not get more pledges and more money paid into the emergency fund. I hope very much that we will not see the international community send the wrong signal to the refugees at this time, that their needs are no longer recognized or no longer being responded to.
One special appeal I made at the meeting was for donors to give us extra funding so we can make hazard payments to our Palestinian staff in Gaza and the West Bank. They work under very, very difficult and dangerous circumstances and unfortunately there is no budget by which you can pay them, as we ought, the hazard pay that all other UN agency staff in other agencies in the region are paid. I hope very much that governments who are very seriously concerned about the security and hazards of United Nations staff will respond to this. It is the only way to be fair to our staff, who have been doing a tremendous job and making many great sacrifices. They do not deserve to be discriminated against.
That is the financial part of the meeting. There were also presentations from UNRWA on the humanitarian crisis in the occupied territory. Everybody at the meeting described repeatedly how they are facing very difficult problems of access because of the many checkpoints and curfews imposed by Israelis. We cannot do our job fully unless the Israelis give us better access and unless they facilitate our work in other ways. One of the points raised by donors was that they would like to know how much of their money – money that is meant for the refugees and for humanitarian aid - is really diverted to pay for things such as port charges, imports into Gaza and even to get empty containers out of Gaza. Donors want to make sure that their money is going where it is intended; that all of it goes to the refugees and not to various payments to the Israelis.”
Questions and Answers
“First of all I understand that the Israelis are working hard to press the USA to stop it’s financial support to UNRWA’s budget. Have you taken any steps in that direction? And about your budget for the next year?”
“Well as you probably know, and you might have seen, there have been a number of attacks on UNRWA. I think I have told you before that these attacks are, in my opinion, based on either misunderstandings or misrepresentations. Sometimes statements about UNRWA have been invented and so attacks have been made about what UNRWA does or does not do, but have not been based on reality. I think we have managed to put our case in various ways, so that we can inform people properly about what we really do and it is some months since I have seen any attacks on us.”
“What size will the UNRWA budget be for next year?”
“We have our budget director and Comptroller here, but I think we have not really started the process yet, we need to get closer to the period to do that. But what we’ll have to have very much in mind when we start, is that next year we will be going into the third and fourth year since the start of the Intifada. We must hope that the emergency situation that we are living with now will not become the routine – an every day situation. It would be very difficult to increase the budget to such an extent that it could deal with such an eventuality. We hope that the situation will improve, of course not only because of our budget situation, but also because of the well being of the Palestinian refugees. But that well-being will be much more difficult for UNRWA to achieve that if the political, economic, and social situations has not improved.”
“How much longer do you believe the Palestinians will be able to take the conditions they are living under without some kind of explosion that would be worse than we’ve already seen.”
“You know, over the past two years there has been a steady decline in the conditions of the Palestinians. For two years many observers have said that Palestinian society was at the breaking point. And you could understand their point - where else could people live with 60% unemployment, 60% poverty rates, without seeing a total break down in society? I think it is not a minor, but a major miracle that the Palestinians have had the coping mechanisms that has allowed them to get through this crisis so far without an implosion or a break down. But one must ask oneself how long can we go on expecting society to break down because there must be limits somewhere. I just hope that the international community will make certain that we do not approach these limits. An explosion or an implosion in Palestinian society will be extremely destabilizing, not only in the territories but also throughout the region. So it is a great burden on the shoulders of the donors community, it’s a great responsibility for them to insure that UNRWA can continue to play the role it has played to alleviate the suffering, and thereby help maintain a minimum stability.”
“What arrangements is UNRWA making for a major influx of Palestinian refugees from the West Bank into Jordan?”
“Well, I think the Jordanian government has made it clear that Jordan cannot absorb a large influx of Palestinians and we understand that the Jordanian Government is in a difficult position in this respect. About our ability to deal with any eventuality, well we are of course as alert as we possibly can be, but I have no plans I can reveal. I can only say that I hope that we can stabilizes the situation so that we will see no further mass movements of people. We have seen far too many in the last five decades in this region already.”
“What impact will a war in Iraq have on UNRWA?’
“UNRWA has faced unexpected crises and problems many times in its history and UNRWA has always been able to face up to these because we have a very strong capability in all these regions. Should unexpected events happen, then I trust that the flexibility and adaptability of UNRWA will enable us to meet any eventualities. But I do not, as you will all probably understand, wish to speculate on what might happen in the event of a worst case scenario.”
“Can you comment on the recent Economist article which quoted a UN official in Jordan saying that UNRWA was gearing up to deal with refugees with Iraq by moving buses and trucks to the border?”
“Well to be honest we have been trying to find out where this story comes from because it has nothing to do with any statements made by anybody in UNRWA. I know that it did not come from UNRWA, as there are no such plans and even the number of vehicles that was mentioned in that report in the Economist is lager than the total fleet of UNRWA vehicles in Jordan. Anybody making such claims really should have checked with us. I assure you we have no plans for the Iraqi border.”
“Your trips to the Gulf and other Arab Countries over the last few months were designed to raise the level of contributions to UNRWA from that region. Is it true you did not receive as positive a reaction as was expected?”
“I think in the UAE I got a much more positive response, a greater response than I had ever hoped for. We have never had one country going from donating normally about $1 million a year, then all of a sudden $27 million for a specific budget. I hope very much that we will expand our cooperation with the UAE Red Crescent Society to work even closer with them. I also hope that other Gulf countries will take the good example of the UAE and find that in UNRWA they have the perfect delivery system for the aid funds that they are quite generously collecting for Palestinians.”