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


GA/9524
PAL/1866

3 December 1998

AS DONORS PLEDGE $68.5 MILLION TO SUPPORT WORK OF UNRWA,
ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT SAYS LEVEL OF AGENCY'S
HUMANITARIAN SERVICES MUST BE ASSURED


UNRWA Head Urges Help in Meeting 1999 $322 Million Requirements
and Stemming Erosion of Vital Services to 3.5 Million Palestinian Refugees

Donor countries pledged $68.5 million in support of the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) this morning, during the meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions to UNRWA.

Didier Opertti (Uruguay), President of the Assembly, said the international community had to face the fact that it had not, in recent years, fully lived up to its responsibilities to the Palestinian refugees. That responsibility was to ensure the maintenance of UNRWA's humanitarian services at acceptable levels, both in quantity and quality, as defined by the needs of the refugee community. It was also to see to it that the annual resolutions adopted by the Assembly were translated into measures to ensure the continuation of the Agency on a secure financial basis.

A widening gap had emerged between the international community's recognition of its responsibility to the Palestinian refugees and its support for UNRWA's work, on the one hand, and a willingness to provide the resources with which that commitment could be met and the work could be facilitated, on the other, he continued. A way had to be found to translate the support heard in the debate on UNRWA and in the annual ad hoc meeting, into a level of financial support which would enable the Agency to live up to the commitment which it symbolized, and the mandate which it was given.

The Commissioner-General of UNRWA said the expected extension by the Assembly of the Agency's mandate for another three years, until June 2002, would help to reduce the fears of the refugees that they were being abandoned by the international community. They could not, however, survive on a mandate. The Agency's working capital now stood at about $400,000, when $20 million to $25 million per month was needed to keep programmes running.

The greatest risk for them was not the untimely discontinuation of UNRWA, but the slow bleeding of the quality programmes which the Agency delivered, some of which were being phased down, if not phased out, he said. In the past five years, UNRWA's financial crisis had become chronic and structural. The deficit position translated into a reduction by one third of the Agency's expenditure compared to what was provided some 20 years ago.

The general fund cash budget for 1999 was $322 million, he went on to say. What was needed now was continuing support to enable UNRWA to stem the erosion of vital services which it continued to provide and to demonstrate that the international community had not forgotten the needs of 3.5 million Palestinians refugees whom UNRWA served.

Statements

DIDIER OPERTTI (Uruguay), President of the General Assembly, said that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provided basic education services, health care, and relief and social programmes through a network of more than 900 installations operating under the United Nations flag. Those facilities were a visible reminder that UNRWA was a symbol of the international community's responsibility for their humanitarian needs and its commitment to their cause until a political solution to the Palestinian problem was found. Within a few days, the General Assembly was expected to renew UNRWA'a mandate for another three years, until 30 June 2002. That would represent a clear recognition of the continuing importance of UNRWA's work.

A widening gap had emerged between the international community's recognition of its responsibility to the Palestinian refugees and its support for UNRWA's work, on the one hand, and a willingness to provide the resources with which that commitment could be met and the work could be facilitated, on the other, he said. Also, in recent years, UNRWA had been unable to carry out it full programme of work. The Commissioner-General of the Agency had taken steps to reduce expenditure levels to bring them into line with the resources he had been given to carry out UNRWA's mission. However, that austerity regime had cut into programme delivery itself, hampering the Agency's capacity to keep pace with the natural growth in the refugee population and rising costs in the region.

Faced with the prospect of reductions in services, the donor community had recently stepped back from the brink and come up with the resources needed to see UNRWA through, from one year to the next, he said. As the cumulative value of the austerity measures taken to date had now reached some $60 million, that stopgap approach was no longer sufficient. A way had to be found to translate the support heard in the debate on UNRWA and in the annual ad hoc meeting, into a level of financial support which would enable the Agency to live up to the commitment which it symbolized and to fulfil the mandate which it was given.

He said that UNRWA's financial requirements for next year were $322 million for the cash portion of its general fund budget, which covered the costs of its normal education, health, relief and social service programmes. The international community had to face the fact that it had not, in recent years, fully lived up to its responsibilities to the Palestinian refugees. That responsibility was to ensure the maintenance of UNRWA's humanitarian services at acceptable levels, both in quantity and quality, as defined by the needs of the refugee community. That responsibility was also to see to it that the annual resolutions adopted by the Assembly were translated into measures to ensure the continuation of the Agency on a secure financial basis. He asked States to demonstrate to the refugees that their faith in the Organization and their belief in that commitment had not been misplaced.

PETER HANSEN, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, said the expected extension by the General Assembly of the Agency's mandate for another three years, until June 2002, would help to reduce the fears of the refugees that they were being abandoned by the international community. They could not, however, survive on a mandate. The greatest risk for them was not the untimely discontinuation of UNRWA, but the slow bleeding of the quality programmes which the Agency delivered, some of which were being phased down, if not phased out. In the past five years, UNRWA's financial crisis had become chronic and structural. The deficit position translated into a reduction by one third of the Agency's expenditure compared to what was provided some 20 years ago.

That gap, he continued, meant that austerity measures, temporarily introduced in 1993, had to be maintained and further ones introduced. Critical expenses, such as university scholarships to Palestinian refugee students and cash grants for special hardship cases, had to be frozen. The Agency could not even repair some of the shelters that the refugees lived in. Vital supervisory and control functions had to be cut back, including audits. The UNRWA was no longer being a good employer of its 22,000, mainly Palestinian refugee, staff. It was paying local staff one third of what some countries paid their own local staff. The Agency's working capital now stood at about $400,000, when $20 million to $25 million per month was needed to keep programmes running.

He appealed to the international community to continue to demonstrate the generosity it had shown in the past, when the Agency's budget was not only fully funded, but also when there was a modest amount left over for extra, unbudgeted needs.

The general fund cash budget for 1999 was $322 million, he went on to say. He hoped the funds made available for next year would allow some of the services which the Agency had been forced to cut to be reinstated. What was needed now was continuing support to enable UNRWA to stem the erosion of vital services which it continued to provide and to demonstrate that the international community had not forgotten the needs of 3.5 million Palestinians refugees whom UNRWA served.

Concluding Statements

MARWAN A. JILANI, observer for Palestine, thanked the Commissioner-General and the Agency for its critical contribution to the well-being of the Palestinian refugees. He also thanked the efforts of the host country and donor countries for the pledges made. He hoped others would make their pledges in the future, and that the contributions would be increased to meet the increased needs of the Agency.

THAMER ABDALLA ADWAN (Jordan) thanked the States that had made pledges. Their efforts would help the Agency, which had suffered from a diminishing budget. He hoped the contributions could provide the essential assistance to the refugees until a just solution was reached. A resolution to the Palestinian issue was the cornerstone in achieving peace in the Middle East. He also thanked Mr. Hansen for his continuous effort in serving the Palestinian refugees.

Mr. HANSEN, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, thanked all those who made pledges. The absolute numbers were weakened since the major donors did not commit specific amounts. The level of contributions would probably not be enough to avoid continued tightness in the Agency's budget or allow the reinstatement of some services that had been ceased. He hoped to maintain the high level of performance the Agency had achieved in the past, until a solution was found. Hopefully, the re-ignition of the peace process would bring the date of a solution forward. It would be sad if UNRWA suffered more erosion than it already had.

Pledges
Country
$ Equivalent
National Currency
Austria
392,800
4,674,000 AS
Belgium
681,800
24,000,000 BF
China
60,000
Denmark
9,245,000
60,000,000 DK
Greece
400,000
Japan
10,240,000
Luxembourg
228,000
8,000,000 LF
Malaysia
20,000
Netherlands
5,729,000
11,000,000 NLG
Norway
13,280,000
100,000,000 NKR
Portugal
25,000
Spain
3,448,000
500,000,000 P
Sweden
18,382,000
150,000,000 SK
Switzerland
5,532,000
7,800,000 SF
Thailand
30,000
Tunisia
11,400
12,000 TD
Turkey
200,000
United Arab Emirates
500,000
Total
68,506,000
Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, United States, France and the European Commission stated that they would announce their pledges at a later date.

The following countries made their pledges in writing: Egypt ($10,000), Czech Republic ($32,700), Colombia ($2,500) and Chile ($5,000).


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For information media - not an official record