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


2 December 1997


Addressing Pledging Meeting for UNRWA, Hennadiy Udovenko (Ukraine)
Stresses Obligation of International Community to Support Palestine Refugees

Following is the statement of the President of the General Assembly, Hennadiy Udovenko (Ukraine), to the meeting of the Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), at Headquarters this morning:

This meeting has been convened pursuant to General Assembly resolution 1729 (XVI) of 20 December 1961 to enable Governments to announce their pledges of voluntary contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Less than a week from now, it will be 48 years since the General Assembly established UNRWA to provide emergency assistance, as a temporary measure, for the Palestine refugees, who then numbered three quarters of a million people. Over those intervening years, as the refugee problem has remained unresolved, UNRWA has become an indispensable factor in the daily lives of the Palestine refugees who today number nearly 3.5 million.

From the early days of providing the essentials of life -- food, shelter, clothing, as well as schooling and emergency medical care -- UNRWA has evolved into a provider of wide-ranging educational, health, relief and social services which have set a standard of excellence that is a tribute to the dedication of UNRWA's staff and to the determination of the refugees to make a better future for themselves.

UNRWA's accomplishments over the years have been a tangible recognition of the international community's continuing responsibility to the Palestine refugees. Today that continuing commitment is in serious jeopardy, because of the failure of the international community to provide UNRWA with the resources it needs to carry out its programmes and deliver relevant services.

In his statement at the Special Political and Decolonization Committee [Assembly's Fourth Committee] last week, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Peter Hansen, outlined the dimensions of this challenge. We appreciate the extraordinary efforts which he and his colleagues have made this year simply to secure the resources that UNRWA has needed to get through 1997.

Member States were informed that if UNRWA were to receive in 1998 the same amount in contributions as it did in 1997, it would still face a deficit of $54 million. In deciding their levels of assistance to UNRWA for the coming year, donor governments must take this structural deficit problem into account, and find ways of addressing it.

For 1998, the first year of the 1998-1999 budget biennium, it is indicated that UNRWA's financial requirements are$343 million for its General Fund, which covers the cost of implementing its regular education, health, relief and social service programmes. Of that amount, the cash component amounts to some $314 million -- representing virtually a "zero growth" level compared with the cash portion of $312 million in the 1997 budget. And that is despite the fact that the refugee population served by the Agency grows by some 3.5 per cent a year -- a natural growth rate that is most visibly evident in increased enrolments in UNRWA's school system, where it is not unusual to find as many as 60 pupils crammed into a classroom.

UNRWA has been introducing management reforms and innovations to enhance the efficiency of programme delivery and make the best use of the resources made available by the international community. But, as the Commissioner-General informs, UNRWA's budget is based not on some notional conception of an ideal level of programme delivery, but rather on the needs of the refugee community -- needs which, given the economic conditions prevailing in the region, are even greater today than at anytime in the recent past.

However, the austerity measures which the management of UNRWA has had to impose over the past four years have begun seriously to affect the level and quality of the services UNRWA delivers. The UNRWA installations -- schools, health centres and other installations, some of them 25 or 30 years old -- are critically in need of repair.

UNRWA also still needs additional funding to complete the equipping and commissioning of the 232-bed general hospital which it has built in the Gaza Strip with funding from the European Union and other donors, and to meet some $5.4 million in outstanding costs for the move of the Agency's headquarters from Vienna to Gaza and Amman, which was completed last year.

The United Nations can be proud of the work of UNRWA, one of its oldest operational agencies, over the past 48 years. The UNRWA can be proud of its thousands of dedicated staff members, almost all of them Palestinians and refugees themselves, who over these years have committed their lives and careers to the improvement of the living conditions of their people. Yet it is not enough merely to salute the work of UNRWA without giving the Agency the resources, and its dedicated staff the tools, needed to carry out the work we have entrusted to them. Whatever the ups and downs in the political process of negotiations, the Palestine refugees remain a community in need of assistance. Their living conditions continue to worsen. Their lives are filled with uncertainty and apprehension. They continue to look to the United Nations for the assistance they need to carry on with their day-to-day lives in dignity, to realize their right to the best possible education, health care and other social services, even as their longer-term prospects are determined as part of the political process.

To the Palestine refugees, the blue United Nations flag flying above the schools, health centres and other familiar facilities operated by UNRWA across the Middle East region is more than just a reassuring flash of colour in the landscape of their daily lives; it is a symbol that the world has not forgotten them, and a reminder of the commitment -- indeed the obligation -- of the international community to support them.

I call on you today to demonstrate to those refugees that their faith in this organization, their belief in that commitment, has not been misplaced. I urge all present today to respond generously to our call to help UNRWA to continue and reinforce the fine work which we have asked it to do, on our behalf, for the Palestine refugees.

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