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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
19 November 2007

Statement by the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency Karen Koning AbuZayd to Host and Donors Meeting

Amman, 19 November 2007

Good afternoon and many thanks for attending this news conference at the start of our annual meeting with our host governments and donors.

First, let me thank both hosts and donors for their continued support to UNRWA at a time of increasing hardship for many of the refugees my Agency serves. The conflict over the summer at the Nahr el Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon and the ever-tightening regime of closures in the West Bank and around Gaza have put severe strains on UNRWA and have made the support of our donors and hosts even more valuable as we strive to fulfill the tasks assigned to us by the international community.

I am very pleased to welcome Jan Egeland, Director General of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. As you know, he brings with him a vast wealth of experience and dedicated humanitarian service.

* * *

I have spoken extensively recently about the situation in Gaza and the Nahr el Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon. Today I would like to focus on access for humanitarian workers and goods in the West Bank, which is emerging as one of the most urgent issues confronting UNRWA. We have been notified by the Israeli authorities of a new regime they intend to implement in the West Bank that would have far-reaching consequences.

The cornerstone of this new regime is the establishment of six terminals in the West Bank through which humanitarian workers and materials will have to pass. Details of these new procedures have yet to be disclosed, but my fear is that the financial implications for UNRWA will be severe. Indeed, our initial assessment suggests that if the regime as we understand it is imposed, this could lead to a more than three fold increase in the cost of service delivery next year.

But the implications are not only financial. I fear that increased restrictions on humanitarian workers and supplies will inevitably bring about a further decline in our ability to deliver services. If access, already badly curtailed, is further reduced, the scaling down of humanitarian assistance and a reduction in the quality of these services will be unavoidable.

Make no mistake.  The impact on the communities which UNRWA serves is incalculable. And let us not forget that these are communities already cut off and divided by de facto sanctions, the barrier and internal closures. Unless access is assured, there will be a high human cost. More lives will be lost, public health will suffer and the standards of education will fall. The resulting sense of isolation and abandonment accompanied by an increase in radicalism serves no one’s interests.

Allow me to conclude with a word about the institution building aspects of UNRWA’s work. Our assistance, in education, health and micro-finance for small businesses, helps strengthen the economic base and the institutions on which peace will one day be built. Indeed, the services UNRWA provides are the building blocks of peace, tolerance and democracy, part of the very pillars on which a two state solution might be founded. While my Agency stands ready to live up to this vision, let me underline that in order to do so, we need the freedom and the resources to deliver. At a time of increased momentum in the diplomatic process, this is a message we should all bear in mind.

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