At a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions to UNRWA this morning, announcements of contributions were made by 27 countries. The largest pledges were made by the United States ($70 million), Sweden ($20.1 million), Norway ($13.2 million), Germany ($9.1 million), Netherlands ($7.5 million) and Switzerland ($6.9 million).
Also making pledges were Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey and United Arab Emirates, as well as the Holy See. In addition, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Japan, United Kingdom and the European Community announced their intention to pledge at a later date. A written pledge was submitted by Maldives.
At the outset of the meeting, the President of the General Assembly, Razali Ismail (Malaysia), said that despite its success in providing social services to the affected refugees, the Agency was now confronted by a serious financial crisis. He stressed that the international community must urgently address the structural deficit in the regular budget of UNRWA in order not to have the Agency undergo again the austerity drive of early this year, which had affected seriously its programmes and services. A meeting held in Amman in September had in some ways alleviated the problem for this year, but for 1997 UNRWA had to be given the additional resources that it urgently requires to implement its programmes and activities.
Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, said the Agency would have to undertake a radical adjustment in its programmes in the coming period without massive donor assistance. The austerity measures already imposed on the Agency had reduced the quality and quantity of the services it provided to Palestinian refugees. There were overcrowded classrooms, overworked medical staff and unacceptable doctor-patient ratios. If the financial needs of the Agency were not fulfilled, the stability of the region could be in danger, since the lack of support could be interpreted as a weakening in the commitment by the international community.
In closing remarks, Mr. Hansen said that maintaining the stability of resources for the Agency was essential to helping the Middle East peace process.
Also addressing the meeting, the Permanent Observer for Palestine, M. Nasser Al-Kidwa, expressed appreciation to all contributors and welcomed the new UNRWA headquarters in Gaza. He said the Agency had made great efforts to alleviate the humanitarian, social and political problems of one of the biggest refugee tragedies of this century. He hoped that contributions would continue until the problem faced by Palestinian refugees was solved.
The UNRWA is one of many United Nations activities which is financed mainly by voluntary contributions outside the regular budget. The Agency was created by General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) on 8 December 1949 and began operations on 1 May 1950. It initially provided emergency relief to some 750,000 Palestinian refugees who had lost their homes and livelihood as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict. By the end of June, UNRWA had provided essential health, education, relief and social services to over 3.3 million registered Palestine refugees. The Agency's five fields of operation are in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Statement by Assembly President
The President of the General Assembly, RAZALI ISMAIL (Malaysia), said the excellent work and commitment of UNRWA in bringing about direct changes to the lives of 3.3 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza Strip for almost five decades had to be fully recognized and supported, "more so today than ever before, as we endeavour to bring about lasting peace, security and development in the Middle East".
He recalled that during the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People last week, he had underscored the need for the international community to renew its pledge of support for the aspirations and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and had expressed deep concern over the current threats to the peace process. Despite numerous United Nations resolutions asserting the rights of the Palestinian people to self- determination, they had remained unfulfilled. While parties to the peace accords, including the major Powers, must discharge their responsibilities through the full implementation of those accords, it was equally vital to reiterate the permanent responsibility of the United Nations in resolving the question of Palestine.
Therefore, he continued, it was encouraging to see UNRWA, the operational entity of the United Nations, assiduously working on the ground cushioning the Palestinian refugees from the effects of that long drawn-out Arab-Israeli conflict. Noting that UNRWA was the oldest United Nations programme devoted to a single constituency, he said it planned, implemented and administered its own programmes and projects, which included the provision of direct services in education, health, and relief and social services to the Palestinian refugees. "We applaud UNRWA's commitment to improve the social and economic situation on the ground." The Agency also maintained one of the largest operational presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in terms of the financial resources it made available, the services it provided, the infrastructure it had set up and the number of staff on its payroll.
However, he went on, despite its success in providing social services to the affected refugees, the Agency was now confronted by a serious financial crisis. He stressed that the international community must urgently address the structural deficit in the regular budget of UNRWA in order not to have the Agency undergo again the austerity drive of early this year, which had affected seriously its programmes and services. A meeting held in Amman in September had in some ways alleviated the problem for this year, but for 1997 UNRWA had to be given the additional resources that it urgently requires to implement its programmes and activities.
He said the Agency's relocation from Vienna to Gaza last July would enable the United Nations to further demonstrate to the Palestinian refugees its commitment to the peace process and the confidence that it places on the Palestinian Authority following the holding of the first Palestinian elections early this year. That move was also expected to bring about some cost-saving measures for the Agency.
However, he said, despite the excellent working relationship between UNRWA and the host Governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, the closure and other related security measures by the occupying Power had affected the living conditions of the Palestinian refugees, who made up 1.2 million, or 49 per cent of the population in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The rate of unemployment had escalated and the continued restriction on the movement of people and goods would worsen the situation even further. In addition, UNRWA had been subjected to even more stringent checks by the occupying Power, which was selective in its recognition of the privileges and immunities of the Agency, where the majority of staff were made up of Palestinian refugees.
"Even as efforts by certain parties, including Palestine, are being exerted to save the peace process, we cannot ignore the plight of the Palestinian refugees who continue to suffer and live in extremely difficult conditions", he said. Failure to address the socio-economic needs of the refugees would only strengthen the forces ranged against the peace process that feeds on desperation and cynicism. A beleaguered Palestine threatened of its economic and social viability did not conduce to further steps on the road to peace and stability. "The Palestinians have been denied their rights and aspirations long enough", he said, stressing the need for governments and the international community to provide more tangible commitments to the Palestinian refugees. He concluded by urging governments to respond generously to the appeal to help UNRWA in its efforts to change the situation on the ground for the long suffering Palestinian refugees.
Statement by UNRWA
PETER HANSEN, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, said the Agency delivered basic education, health, relief and social services to 3.3 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "The long years of occupation and the uprising, as well as the serious effects of the current closures mean that UNRWA services are even more essential today, despite the establishment of the Palestinian Authority", he said.
In Lebanon, the Agency was the sole provider of basic services to the Palestinian refugees, he said. The international community specifically created the Agency to provide basic services until the Palestinian refugee problem would be solved.
He said UNRWA had just gone through one of its most difficult periods in its recent history with a deficit which had moved from a cyclical up-and-down situation to a structural one. The core deficit of a few months ago in the Agency's regular budget had been $9.3 million. Since the Agency had been in danger of facing insolvency, a meeting had been held in Amman last September, when $11.25 million was collected.
"I have now been informed, and I fervently hope that it is an error, that the new exchange rate is being withdrawn", he said. If that was the case, it would have serious implications for the Agency's 1996 and 1997 accounts.
The Agency's total requirements for the General Fund for 1997 were $352 million in cash and $40 million in kind, he said. "We may well scrape through 1997, or we may face another structural deficit of up to $50 million", he added. The austerity measures imposed on the Agency had had an impact on the quality and quantity of the services that it provided to Palestinian refugees. There were overcrowded classrooms, overworked medical staff and unacceptable doctor-patient ratios as well as low maintenance allocations for Agency installations.
More serious than the impact of the financial constraints on the refugees were the implications of the structural deficit, he stressed. "Unless corrected by massive donor intervention, the Agency will have to undertake a radical adjustment in its programmes in the coming period." Such measures could have political ramifications for the stability of the region since they could be interpreted as a weakening in the commitment of the international community to solving the Palestinian problem. If the Agency's financial situation did not improve, amputations rather than reductions in its programmes would have to take place.
He announced that a follow-up meeting of major donors and host governments was scheduled to be held in Amman on 11 December.
State - National Currency - $ equivalent
Austria* 4.9 million shillings 453,700
Belgium* 25 million Belgian francs 791,140
Czech Republic 500,000 Czech koruny 18,580
Germany 14 million deutsche marks 9,150,300
Holy See 20,000
India 250,000 rupees 7,000
Luxembourg 5 million Lux francs 158,200
Monaco 25,000 french francs 4,800
Netherlands 13 million guilders 7,560,000
Norway* 85 million kroner 13,260,000
Republic of Korea 100,000
Saudi Arabia 1,200,000
Sweden 135 million kronor 20,150,000
Switzerland 9 million Swiss francs 6,980,000 (5 million cash, 4 million food assistance) Thailand 30,000
Tunisia 12,000 dinars 12,400
United Arab Emirates 1,835,500 dirhams 500,000
United States 70,000,000
* Subject to budgetary approval.