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


GA/10114
PAL/1929

4 December 2002

Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary
Contributions to UNRWA
Meeting (AM)

DONOR COUNTRIES PLEDGE $47.53 MILLION FOR UNRWA'S REGULAR BUDGET FOR 2003
AT MEETING OF AD HOC COMMITTEE FOR VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTIONS


Fourteen donor countries pledged $47.53 million for the 2003 regular budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) at this morning's meeting of the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary Contributions.  The two largest bilateral donors -- United States and United Kingdom -– would announce their pledges at a later date.

Urging Member States to meet the financial requirements of the humanitarian programme created by the United Nations some 53 years ago, General Assembly Vice-President Nguyen Thanh Chau (Viet Nam), said the international community remained morally obligated to sustain its commitment to the Palestine refugees -- a commitment that found daily expression through UNRWA’s vital work in providing essential services to more than 4 million refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Pointing out that the United Nations flag flying over nearly 900 UNRWA installations throughout the region stood as a symbol of the international community’s commitment to ensure the well-being of the refugees, he said it was regrettable that the international community had so far failed to meet the Agency's financial requirements for 2002, pledging $285.25 million against the regular budget of $330 million.

The UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen described the pledges for 2003 as somewhat better than last year and stressed that the significance of the Agency’s work was greater than the sum of its services.  Appealing to Member States to fully fund UNRWA's budget for 2003, he also urged major donors who had reduced their contributions to increase them in this time of seemingly unending humanitarian emergency when Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza had experienced 27 months of closures and curfews.  A once-prosperous economy now recorded poverty rates of some 70 per cent and unemployment rates of about 50 per cent.

Emphasizing that UNRWA was a central pillar of support for the refugees it served, he said that for more than 52 years it had helped to develop the human resources of Palestine refugees.  Some three generations of refugees had passed through its gender-balanced schools, with academic levels among the highest in the region.  Many refugees had been able to lift themselves out of poverty by starting small enterprises with loans and training from the Agency’s innovative income generation programmes.  Above all, UNRWA was a symbol of the international community’s commitment to Palestine refugees, he emphasized.

Other speakers expressed condolences on the deaths of UNRWA staff in 2002, including that of the Agency's project manager in the Jenin refugee camp on 22 November.  In light of what many described as the increasingly dire humanitarian crisis and bleak economic situation, pledges were made today by the representatives of Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Malaysia, China, Republic of Korea, Oman, Turkey, Cyprus, Tunisia, Sweden, Kuwait and India.

In addition to the representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom, who indicated that they would announce pledges similar to those they had made last year, the representatives of Austria, Germany, Lebanon and Japan said they would inform the Ad Hoc Committee of their intentions at a later date.

Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, observer for Palestine, thanked members for their generous contributions, noting that the grave deterioration of life in the occupied Palestinian territory had exacerbated the situation of the Palestinian refugees and intensified their needs.  The UNRWA had provided basic relief and social services, as well as emergency humanitarian assistance to help feed the hungry and rebuild damaged shelters and infrastructure.  In light of the ongoing shortfalls in funding for the Agency, today's pledges would help UNRWA continue its critical work, she said.

Statements

NGUYEN THANH CHAU (Viet Nam), General Assembly Vice-President, said that the difficulties occurring since September 2000 and a policy of curfews and closures in the occupied Palestinian territory had caused a virtual collapse of the Palestinian economy.  Two out of every three Palestinians had been plunged into poverty, and many were destitute.  Now, more than ever, the international community should affirm its support for the Palestinian refugees by providing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) with the necessary financial resources for 2003, he said.  Established by the Assembly in 1949, it was one of the Organization’s first humanitarian undertakings and had since become its largest operational agency, providing education, health and social services to more than 4 million refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. 

Tragically, he went on, those people remained refugees and in need of international assistance some 53 years after the international community's undertaking to find a just and durable solution to their future.  Thus, it remained morally obligated to sustain its commitment to the refugees – a commitment that found daily expression through UNRWA’s vital work.  The Agency, an essential source of support for Palestinian refugees in the region, provided elementary and preparatory schooling to nearly 500,000 pupils, half of whom were girls.  It offered job training to some 5,800 students and basic maternal and child health services to the entire registered refugee population, of which 7 million had visited the clinics this year, he said. 

The UNRWA also carried out poverty alleviation and human resource development programmes, he pointed out.  This year, it had provided special hardship assistance to some 212,000 of the neediest refugees and delivered assistance to an additional 217,000 families through its emergency assistance programme in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  The UNRWA now faced the formidable challenge of maintaining its services for a growing population of refugees.  The Agency’s 2003 regular budget requirement of $344 million must be fully funded if it was to continue to provide vital services to the refugees, he emphasized.  It also urgently needed to build up its working capital, which had eroded over the years. 

Regrettably, he said, at a time when the refugees in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were in the greatest need and the refugee communities in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan continued to depend on UNRWA for essential services, the international community had so far failed to meet its financial requirements for 2002, pledging just $285.25 million against the regular budget of $330 million.  That funding shortfall would have negative implications for the Agency’s services, he added.

The United Nations flag flying over nearly 900 UNRWA installations throughout the region stood as a symbol of the international community’s commitment to ensure the well-being of the Palestinian refugees, he noted.  Now, more than ever, that commitment must be reaffirmed.  The international community must pledge to provide the necessary resources, in order to enable the Agency to carry out the task with which it was entrusted.  The UNRWA was the only United Nations programme that was a direct subsidiary of the General Assembly.  It worked under extremely difficult circumstances and with the selfless devotion of its 22,000 staff members, three of whom had lost their lives this year to the violence in the occupied Palestinian territory. 

PETER HANSEN, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, said the Ad Hoc Committee was meeting against the backdrop of a seemingly unending humanitarian emergency in the occupied Palestinian territory.  Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were facing their twenty-seventh month of closures and curfews.  A once prosperous economy now recorded poverty rates of some 70 per cent and unemployment rates of about 50 per cent.  As the emergency continued, the suffering deepened, particularly for the refugees.

In response to the humanitarian emergency, he said, since October 2000 UNRWA had delivered emergency assistance on a regular basis to some 1.3 million Palestine refugees affected by the strife and poverty in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or about 49 per cent of the total population of the occupied Palestinian territory.  That the Agency delivered assistance above its regular programme of services to some 4 million refugees in its five fields demonstrated its robust operational capacities, extensive infrastructure and dedicated staff, he noted.  The UNRWA was a central pillar of support for the refugees it served, he said.  For more than 52 years, it had helped to develop the human resources of the Palestine refugees and some three generations of them had passed through its gender-balanced schools, with academic levels among the highest in the region.  Many refugees had been able to lift themselves out of poverty by starting small enterprises with loans and training from the Agency’s innovative income-generation programmes, he added.

Educated and skilled refugees had contributed immensely to the socio-economic life of the refugee communities throughout the Agency’s areas of operation, he continued.  The UNRWA’s investment in the human resource development of the refugees had been profitable, but none of its achievements would have been possible without the determination of the refugees and the generous support of the international community.  In recent years, however, the resources made available to the Agency had not kept pace with growing needs. 

He said that while increased funding for the Agency’s 2001 budget had virtually eliminated its deficit, in 2002, hopes that increased contributions indicated a trend had been disappointed.  With only $285 million in overall contributions against the General Assembly-approved budget of $330 million at the end of November 2002, the financial situation this year gave little cause for optimism.  The Agency had been living from hand to mouth for several years and he was deeply concerned that there would be a recurrence of the funding shortfalls of the recent past.  The Agency’s schools, training and health centres and other installations were all showing the strain of limited expenditures on maintenance. 

A growing student population resulted in increased demand to construct hundreds of additional classrooms every year, he said.  For the Agency that had helped to achieve universal literacy among the refugees, it was profoundly discouraging to see the infrastructure of its education programme deteriorate.  In Jordan, for example, some 93 per cent of UNRWA schools ran on double shifts and classroom sizes had increased by some 45 students per class.  Agency doctors, working under great strain, treated more than 100 patients per day, and social workers struggled to cope with growing caseloads in excess of the norms defined by the Agency. 

The UNRWA’s budget for 2003 was at the level of $344 million, he said.  It was a strict budget which, while projecting a nominal increase over last year’s figure, represented a decline in real terms when taking into account inflation and the growth in services which required more teachers, health servers and social service staff for a rapidly growing refugee population.  Noting that the $344 million budget represented the Agency’s minimum financial needs, he said its education programme accounted for 65 per cent of the budget, the health programme accounted for some 22 per cent and the relief and social services programme about 13 per cent.  The UNRWA was not an organization that doled out assistance to passive recipients, he pointed out, adding that the major share of its resources went to health and education. 

Appealing to Member States to fully fund the Agency’s budget for 2003, he also urged major donors who had reduced their contributions over past levels to do their utmost to bring their contributions back to those levels.  In all cases, he called for timely contributions to prevent the Agency from experiencing undue financial pressures in 2003.  Pointing out that almost all of UNRWA’s 22,000 staff members were Palestine refugees, he said that the significance of its work was greater than the sum of its services.  The UNRWA represented a symbol of the international community’s commitment to the well-being of the Palestine refugees, he stressed.

Concluding Statements

FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, observer for Palestine, expressing appreciation for the contributions announced to ensure the continuity of UNRWA's services, thanked those donors who had increased their contributions and contributed to emergency appeals throughout the year.  Those contributions had been instrumental in enabling the Agency to respond to the dire situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.  The grave deterioration in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, had exacerbated the situation of the Palestinian refugees and the number of hardship cases continued to rise.

The UNRWA’s noble mission had been to provide resources for education, basic health and social services, including emergency humanitarian assistance to the poorest, she said.  In light of the continuing deterioration of the situation and the Agency’s financial difficulties, the pledges announced today would greatly help in providing the necessary services.  The UNRWA’s continued work was imperative in meeting the needs of all Palestine refugees, she added.

Expressing thanks to the Commissioner-General for his work in guiding the Agency during difficult times, she reaffirmed her deep gratitude to the UNRWA staff and her recognition of their daily contributions to the Agency’s mission.  She also expressed profound shock and regret at the recent killing of UNRWA’s project manager in the Jenin refugee camp, calling for a serious investigation of the war crime committed against an international civil servant.  The perpetrators must be brought to justice, she stressed.

Mr. HANSEN, in his concluding remarks, thanked those donors who had announced pledges or their intention to pledge, saying he was encouraged that some donors had heeded the plea not only to maintain their past contributions but also to increase their pledges.  Noting that UNRWA staff made up the most underpaid institutional workforce in the area, he said that although they worked under the most hazardous conditions, local area staff received no hazard pay.  The reason they had taken no action to rectify that injustice was because they knew that hazard pay would be taken out of the Agency’s insufficient resources.  He promised to convey the condolences expressed today to the families of the three UNRWA staff killed this year. 

He stressed that mobilization of funds, like reform, was not just an event but a process.  It was hoped that delegates would learn as much about UNRWA’s vital work so that the Agency could receive even greater support.  While it was too early to give figures, from a preliminary point of view, pledges were somewhat better than last year, and he hoped to resume the growth rate of 5 per cent per annum.

Pledges

COUNTRY
AMOUNT PLEDGED
LOCAL CURRENCY
Norway
$13,000,000
Denmark
50,000,000 Danish Kroner
Luxembourg
$400,000 for projects
1,600,000 Euros
Switzerland
8,000,000 SF
Malaysia
$29,000
China
$60,000
Republic of Korea
$100,000
Oman
$25,000
Turkey
$200,000
Cyprus
15,000 CP
Tunisia
12,000 TD
Sweden
175,000,000 SC
Kuwait
$1,500,000
India
225,000 INR



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For information media - not an official record