Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

6 December 2000


Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), this afternoon appealed for increased international assistance to enable the agency to continue its operations, noting that some $500 million had been lost to the Palestinian economy over the last two months.

He told a Headquarters press briefing that the agency was dealing with a very large number of people who had been disabled, as well as with a great deal of destruction to the infrastructure. The Agency which was established by General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 and began its work on 1 May 1950, provides basic services for 3.8 million Palestinian refugees registered in its five fields of operation -– Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza.

Mr. Hansen said he had made an appeal at a pledging conference for full funding of the UNRWA’s “very modest and meagre” budget of $311 million for next year. So far, only $38 million had been received, he said. The good news, he noted, was that an emergency appeal for $39.8 million -- for the next three months –- to deal with the crisis, seemed to have been fully subscribed. The agency still expected confirmation of some of the pledges, he added.

He hoped more States would follow the example of some few countries that announced increases in their contributions at the pledging conference. With the refugee population growing by five per cent every year, he said, the Agency’s resources had to grow by at least that same figure. “I hope that I’ll not, next year, find myself in the same situation as I do this year, not knowing where to find money for the December payroll –- a phenomenon that has become all too familiar.”

A correspondent observed that many families in small villages and in the refugee camps were in very bad shape and asked what was being done to help them. Mr. Hansen replied that their situation was due to the fact that their freedom of movement had been completely limited. Travelers from Jerusalem to the northern part of the West Bank had to negotiate nine check points which was very difficult. Many people had been deprived of employment opportunities within the Palestinian territories, Mr. Hansen said.

The meagre savings of people had now run out, he said, adding that part of his Agency’s appeal was to provide for distribution of food to 85 per cent of the refugee population. Normally, the agency gave food assistance to five per cent of refugees in the West Bank, and eight per cent in Gaza –- “to the poorest of the poor”, he said. “Now, so many have sunk into poverty that we have to make an almost general distribution to meet urgent and immediate food needs.”
He said he trusted that the Agency would be able to do that because of the emergency short-term appeal it had made. He told the questioner that the appeal was for three months, beginning from this month, and he hoped the humanitarian crisis would have been over at the end of that period. “But there’s no guarantee that we would be out of the woods by then.”

Asked whether funds were being received to provide compensation for workers for loss of earnings, he said the Palestinian Authority had endeavoured to make “modest amounts” available to those who could not make use of their work permits in Israel. He did not know how much was being paid, but he said those who felt left out of the scheme had been protesting. He hoped that with the emergency appeal, UNRWA would be able to make up for some of those losses through the provision of food and other basic amenities.

He told a questioner that about $180 million in aid for the first six months of the year had been received. The Palestinian economy had lost $500 million in the past sixty days. Emergency aid flowing in through the UNRWA totaled $1.8 million, he said, adding that through the emergency appeal some $40 million would be available.

Asked to give an estimate of the destruction caused by Israeli troops which had been uprooting trees and other obstacles in their path, Mr. Hansen said a published report gave a striking picture.

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