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United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
10 May 2001
Donors and host governments reaffirm support for UNRWA
- At UNRWA's two-day informal meeting of major donors and host governments which concluded today in Amman, delegates reaffirmed their support for the Agency and its efforts to maintain services to 3.8 million Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Delegations representing 28 of the Agency's donors and host governments, as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization attended the meeting.
In his opening address to the meeting, the Jordanian Minister of Labour, Mr. Eid Al-Fayez, reiterated Jordan's support to UNRWA and its mission in assisting Palestine refugees. "Jordan has a real interest in insuring stability for the Agency's work, specially as it serves more than 42 per cent of the total number of registered refugees", Mr. Al-Fayez told the delegates.
Addressing representatives of donor governments, the minister said that "your countries have a very important role to play in providing political and financial support to the Agency to enable it to continue to shoulder its mission in the region". "UNRWA was able over the last seven months, as it has always been under similar circumstances in the past, to reaffirm its role as an element of stability in a region that has seen repeated cases of instability. The Agency's excellent ability to work efficiently and to adapt to a very unstable environment is something that deserves from all of us - both donors and host governments- to renew our support to the Agency and reinforce our partnership to help the Agency overcome the obstacles it is facing".
In his opening remarks, Commissioner-General Peter Hansen thanked donor and host governments for their continued support to the Agency and updated the meeting on developments in the Agency's work since donor and host governments met on 26 & 27 September 2000.
The Commissioner-General briefed the meeting about UNRWA's financial situation, stressing the need to bridge a US$ 68 million projected deficit in this year's approved regular budget of US$ 311 million. Mr. Hansen noted that the cash flow forecast for this year is such that without additional receipt of funds, the Agency will simply run out of cash by October. "Most encouraging for us in the Agency has been the quick recognition of its capacity to do the job", said Mr. Hansen. " This capacity is of course the Agency's solid edifice - its trained staff and infrastructure. I am convinced that several years of budgetary deficits have now started to slowly undermine this edifice", he added. Using another metaphor, the Commissioner-General went on to say that "UNRWA is the vehicle which carries and delivers the humanitarian programmes. The crisis we face, however, is that the vehicle cannot any longer be maintained adequately due to the absence of resources to provide spare parts etc. to keep it going". Continuing, Mr. Hansen explained that the crisis is not just with respect to the Agency's obligation to meet the payroll. It goes much deeper into the infrastructure and services it provides to the refugees. Slowly crumbling school buildings, health centres and other facilities, declining teacher/student ratios, introduction of two and three shifts in schools, declining doctor/patient rations, all add up to a decline in quality of services. This trend must be reserved. "The message I wish to underscore today is that there is a real and serious crisis for the Agency's regular or general fund budget", said Mr. Hansen, adding that "we have already exhausted the scope for austerity measures".
The Commissioner-General also briefed delegates on the current situation in the Palestinian areas, highlighting UNRWA's emergency assistance to the Palestine refugees affected by Israeli measures. "It became quite clear late last year that UNRWA was the appropriate agency for delivery of the bulk of humanitarian assistance to the affected refugee and other populations", Mr. Hansen noted. "It was realized that the emergency in the occupied territories was unlike others around the world, in that the UN system has a very elaborate infrastructure for humanitarian assistance already fully deployed in the area of operations". "UNRWA is expected by the United Nations to carry the main burden for the emergency humanitarian programme", he added.
Thanking the governments that responded to UNRWA's two major emergency appeals, Mr. Hansen described the response as a "vote of confidence" in the Agency's capacity to respond adequately to the emergency. Mr. Hansen pointed out that the first emergency appeal for US$ 39.1 million was fully funded, which encouraged UNRWA to expect similar response to the second appeal for US$ 37.2 million. Pointing out that UNRWA had already received US$ 22.8 million in response to that appeal, Mr. Hansen expressed his hope that the remaining amount of US$ 14.4 million for the second appeal would be covered in the near future.
The Commissioner-General also briefed delegates on efforts exerted to widen the Agency's donor base, referring to his address to the Arab Foreign Ministers in Cairo last March when he appealed for concerted efforts to raise contributions by Arab countries to a level of 7.8 per cent of the general fund budget pointing out that the current rate is 2 per cent. In this context, Mr. Hansen paid special tribute to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya for a contribution of US$ 1 million it has most recently made to UNRWA's general fund.
In a subsequent session, the participants were briefed by Mr. Hansen and other Agency officials about the implementation of UNRWA's emergency appeals. With funding from donors for the emergency programme, the Agency has been able to extend its health services to address the needs of a growing number of casualties among the refugee population in the West Bank and Gaza, including the provision of physiotherapy, prosthetic devices and cash assistance to needy refugees. In addition, food parcels, comprising basic food commodities were distributed to more than 200,000 families in the Palestinian areas. Cash assistance was also provided to families who lost their income or whose shelters were destroyed. Moreover, UNRWA has launched a job creation programme to provide temporary employment for refugees who had lost their jobs and income. This programme created about 200,00 job opportunity days.
The delegates were also briefed on the impact on UNRWA operations of the restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on the movement of Agency vehicles and staff. On many occasions, teachers, doctors and other staff were unable to reach their schools, health centres and offices.
It was noted that not only had the number of fatalities and casualties grown, but that there had been a drastic worsening in the economic and living conditions of the Palestinian population In the West Bank and Gaza, particularly among refugees. The current political uncertainty coupled with the worst deterioration in the situation in the occupied territories since 1991, have further heightened refugee concerns and anxieties for the future.
The participants were also briefed on issues concerning UNRWA's work, including the management reform process and its micro-finance and micro-enterprise programme.
In their statements, delegations of Jordan on behalf of the host countries, Sweden on behalf of the EU, the US, the European Commission, PLO, Canada, the UK, Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Norway, Japan and the Syrian Arab Republic expressed their appreciation for the exceptional efforts of the staff of UNRWA on behalf of the refugees, often in very difficult circumstances and at personal risk.
The representative of the UK stressed that the prompt response of the donors to UNRWA's emergency appeals reflected a recognition of the Agency's "ability to deliver and deliver effectively".
The delegation of Canada announced that his government was increasing its contribution to UNRWA's regular budget by 10 million Canadian dollars.
Delegations noted the obstacles that had arisen in the way of free movement of humanitarian assistance in Gaza and West Bank as a result of closures and other measures, some of which were described by some delegations as "collective punishment" contrary to international humanitarian law. They stressed the importance of unhindered movement of Agency staff and humanitarian goods and services in order to enable the Agency to play its vital role.
In his concluding remarks, Commissioner-General Peter Hansen thanked the participants and their governments for their continued support to UNRWA and its mandate, which sent a positive message to Palestine refugees reaffirming the international community's commitment to their cause until a just settlement was reached.