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

10 September 1997


GAZA, 10 September (UNRWA) -- After obtaining over $19 million in new pledges from donor countries for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) regular programmes in 1997, UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen today announced that he was able to revoke some of the cuts in Agency services which he had been forced to introduce on 19 August.

Today's announcement follows a meeting with major donors and host governments in the Jordanian capital of Amman on 9 September. Mr. Hansen said the Agency had been facing a gap of $70 million, between the Agency's budget, as approved by the General Assembly, and its estimated 1997 income. Austerity measures had achieved savings of some $50 million, but some $20 million had remained unfunded by mid-August.

The situation had forced the Agency to announce a series of emergency measures. They included a review of school charges, a freeze on the recruitment of 249 additional teachers needed Agency-wide to cope with the growth in the student population, a 15 per cent reduction in international staff, discontinuation of the Agency's portion of university scholarships, and a freeze in hospital reimbursements and referrals for November and December 1997.

Mr. Hansen emphasized that the situation facing the Agency remained critical. The new pledges announced at yesterday's meeting were directed at the specific $20 million gap which had prompted the emergency measures. Even that gap was not completely closed.

"We are still dealing with a gap of $50 million this year, and the outlook for the next two years is not at all clear. Yesterday's new pledges eased the worst pressure. We will survive this year, but we cannot afford to relax", Mr. Hansen told journalists.

Measures to be cancelled included the decision to impose school charges on Palestine refugee pupils attending UNRWA schools, Mr. Hansen said. The freeze in hospital reimbursements and referrals would also be lifted. Measures still in force include a 15 per cent reduction in international staff. The recruitment of additional teachers into normal staff positions will also remain frozen.

"If we are to retain our ability to deliver services at appropriate levels for the 3.5 million Palestine refugees whom we serve, some of the measures I announced on 19 August will have to remain in place", Mr. Hansen said. "We will consider in detail how we can best meet the challenge of providing quality education for the refugee school pupils now and in the future."

The Commissioner-General said the Agency would continue to provide scholarship subsidies for existing recipients. Under current funding projections, however, it would only be possible to finance new scholarships if special additional funding was secured.

Mr. Hansen paid tribute to those donors who had already contributed more than their fair share to UNRWA, according to the assessed scale of contributions to the United Nations. He also thanked those countries which announced additional pledges for the Agency's regular programmes and special activities during yesterday's meeting.

During that meeting, the Government of Japan announced that its annual pledge of about $12.6 million for 1997, including a substantial proportion of UNRWA's regular budget, would be paid before the end of this year, rather than early in 1998 in accordance with the Japanese fiscal year. Japan also announced its intention to provide additional amounts for the special needs of Palestine refugees in Lebanon and for food aid in 1997.

The United States, UNRWA's largest single cash donor country, announced $7.5 million in additional funds for the Agency in 1997, including $1.5 million for emergency assistance in Lebanon. The Netherlands and Germany each pledged about $1.0 million. Italy pledged about $0.9 million. Spain pledged about $500,000. Luxembourg announced that it would consider pledging an additional amount in the next few weeks.

Yesterday's meeting with major donors and host governments had been called to discuss the Agency's draft 1998-1999 budget, to be presented to the General Assembly later this year. Mr. Hansen told delegates at the meeting that a financially crippled UNRWA would be a negative political factor in the region. "The cost of restoring our operations, should they be suspended or cancelled, would vastly outweigh the modest sums the Agency needs", Mr. Hansen said.

During the meeting, Mr. Hansen met with representatives of UNRWA staff and the refugee community. He conveyed to delegates the concerns expressed to him about the repercussions of the measures which had been announced by the Agency in August and circulated copies of petitions received by UNRWA in recent days protesting against cuts in the Agency's services.

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