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Source: UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
4 December 2002
Statement by Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UNRWA
to the Pledging Conference

UN New York, 4 December 2002

Mr. President,

1. We in UNRWA are honored to have you open this Pledging Conference, and are greatly encouraged by your expression of support for the Agency's work on behalf of the Palestine refugees.

2. We meet, Mr. President, against the backdrop of a seemingly unending humanitarian emergency in the occupied Palestinian territory. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are now facing their 27th month of closures and curfews. These have taken an enormous toll on the population; a once prosperous economy is now recording poverty rates as high as 70%, and unemployment rates in excess of 50%. As the emergency continues, the suffering deepens - in particular the suffering of the refugees, among the most vulnerable demographic groups in the occupied Palestinian territory. The foreseeable future looks bleak.

3. In response to the humanitarian emergency, since October 2000 UNRWA has delivered emergency assistance on a regular basis to some 1.3 million Palestine refugees affected by the strife and poverty in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This is fully 49% of the total population of the occupied Palestinian territory.

4. That the Agency delivered this assistance over and above its regular programme of services to a population of some 4 million refugees in its five fields is a demonstration of its robust operational capacities, extensive infrastructure and able and dedicated staff.

5. This brings me to a point I would like to underscore: UNRWA is a central pillar of support for the refugees it serves. For over 53 years, UNRWA has helped to develop the human resources of the Palestine refugees. Some three generations of refugees have passed through UNRWA's gender-balanced schools, whose academic levels are among the highest in the region. These generations have also utilised UNRWA's medical services to attain health levels on a par with even middle income countries in the region. Many of the refugees have been able to lift themselves out of poverty by starting small enterprises with loans and training through the Agency's innovative income generation programmes.

Mr. President,

6. Educated and skilled refugees have contributed immensely to the social and economic life of the refugee communities throughout the Agency's areas of operation. The sense of stability and well-being that has come with this contribution is proof positive that UNRWA's investment in the human resource development of the refugees has been profitable.

7. None of these achievements would have been possible without the determination of the refugees to help themselves. Nor would they have been possible without the generous support of the international community, who provided the institutional framework, through UNRWA, to deliver assistance to the refugees.

8. Unfortunately, the task of providing these services to the 4 million refugees has become more difficult over time. In recent years, the resources made available to UNRWA have not kept pace with growing needs.

9. To our regret, after increased funding for the Agency's budget in 2001 virtually eliminated its deficit, in 2002 our hopes that increased contributions were indicative of a trend have been disappointed. With only $285 million in overall contributions against the GA approved budget of $330.7 million as at end November 2002, the financial situation this year gives little cause for optimism.

10. Indeed, Mr. Chairman, I am deeply concerned that we will see a recurrence of the successive funding shortfalls of the recent past that have taken a toll on the Agency's service infrastructure and operational capacity. The Agency’s schools, training centres, health centres and other installations are all showing the strain of limited expenditures on maintenance. A growing student population, moreover, results in increased demands on the Agency to construct hundreds of additional classrooms every year. For an Agency that has helped achieve universal literacy among the refugees, it is profoundly discouraging to see the infrastructure of its education programme deteriorate.

11. Other illustrations of the erosion of UNRWA's programmes are no less discouraging:

  • In Jordan, 93% of our schools run on double shifts, while the proportion in state schools is the opposite.
  • Classroom sizes have increased to some 45 students per class.
  • Agency doctors must work under great strain and treat more than 100 patients per day.
  • Our relief and social services programme must also contend with financial stringency, as our social workers struggle to cope with growing caseloads in excess of norms defined by the Agency.
  • In 1999, the Agency introduced lower Area Staff salary scales as a result of financial stringency. The scales have reduced the competitiveness of the Agency as an employer of teachers, doctors, social workers, etc.

    12. The Agency’s budget for year 2003 is at the level of $344 million. While projecting an increase in nominal terms over last year’s figure, it represents in fact a decline in real terms when inflation and the growth in services requiring more teachers, health servers, and social service staff for a rapidly growing refugee population are taken into account. This $344 million budget represents the Agency's minimum financial needs in maintaining its services for the refugees, and includes $10 in requirements for the Agency's salary reserves, and $7 million in working capital requirements.

    Of the resources allocated to UNRWA's core programmes in 2003:

  • The Education Programme accounts for 65%
  • The Health Programme accounts for 22%
  • The Relief and Social Services Programme accounts for 13%

    13. In order to be able to fulfil our humanitarian mandate, I appeal to the Member States gathered here today to fully fund the Agency's budget for 2003. I also appeal to the major donors among you who have reduced their contributions over past levels to do their utmost to bring their contributions back to those levels. In all cases, I appeal for timely contributions to prevent the Agency from experiencing undue financial pressures over the course of 2003.

    Mr. President,

    14. UNRWA’s staff numbers more than 22,000 persons, almost all of whom are Palestine refugees. The significance of its work for the refugees is greater than the sum of its services. It also represents a symbol of the international community’s commitment to the well-being of the Palestine refugees as also its commitment to the search for a just and durable peace in the region. At this critical time I believe you should do your utmost to support the work of the Agency.

    Thank you.

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