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


Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary
Contributions to UNRWA
AM Meeting
GA/10214
PAL/1971

3 December 2003

NINETEEN DONOR COUNTRIES PLEDGE $72 MILLION FOR ACTIVITIES OF UNRWA IN 2004


Nineteen donor countries pledged $72 million for the 2004 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.

Opening the meeting, General Assembly Vice-President Roman Kirn (Slovenia) said UNRWA had continued to face difficulties in the occupied Palestinian territory, where strife, curfews and closures had led to virtual economic collapse.  Material and emotional resources had worn thin; two of three Palestinians had plunged into poverty, and many had fallen into destitution.

Despite an increasing beneficiary base, the 2004 budget had declined by some 5 per cent in real terms to $330 million, he said.  The Agency had striven to tackle financial constraints by increasing efficiency and reducing costs, but meagre resources were still eroding its services.  The international community must reaffirm its commitment to ensure the well-being of Palestinian refugees by providing UNRWA with the resources it needed.

Similarly, Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, said the organization’s resources had failed to keep pace with burgeoning refugee needs.  Successive shortfalls to the General Fund had taken their toll on the Agency’s service infrastructure and operational capacity, leaving its schools, training centres, health clinics and installations operating on a maintenance budget.

The 2004 budget would minimally cover the Agency’s financial needs, he continued, including $4 million in salary increases and $7 million in working capital requirements.  Member States should fully fund the Agency’s 2004 budget, and donor countries who had reduced their contributions should restore them to previous levels, so that undue cash flow pressures could be prevented in the coming year.

During the meeting, pledges were made by the representatives of United Arab Emirates, Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Cyprus, Indonesia, Tunisia, Kuwait, Thailand, Norway, Bahrain, India, Austria, China, Ireland, Malaysia, and Netherlands.

The Observer for the Holy See also made a pledge.

In addition, the representatives of Japan, United States, Turkey, and the United Kingdom said their countries would pledge at a later date, as did a representative of the European Commission.

In concluding remarks, the Observer for Palestine thanked Member States for their contributions, noting that the Palestinian situation had continued to deteriorate, and refugees needs had increased.  The pledges would help UNRWA provide essential services and programmes, ensuring refugees that the international community had not forgotten them.

Mr. Hansen observed that at least seven or eight countries had increased donations for the 2004 period.  Pledges thus far totalled $72 million, a significant increase over last year’s pledge of $47.5 million, and several major donors had yet to state their pledged amounts.

Statements

ROMAN KIRN (Slovenia), Vice-President of the General Assembly, said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) continued to face difficulties in the occupied Palestinian territory, where strife, curfews and closures had led to a virtual collapse of the Palestinian economy.  The refugees’ material and emotional resources had stretched thin; two of three Palestinians had plunged into poverty, and many had fallen into destitution.

The UNRAA provided education, health, microfinance and social services to over 4 million refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, he said.  The Agency was a vital source of support for Palestinian refugees, providing elementary and preparatory schooling to nearly 500,000 pupils, and offering training to some 5,800 students.  It also provided preventive, curative and maternal, as well as child-health, services, recording more than 9 million patient visits to its clinics in 2002.  In 2003, the Agency had also given special hardship assistance, including basic food and shelter repair, to some 233,000 of the neediest refugees.

He noted that pledges to UNRWA’s General Fund had increased by 7 per cent in 2003, compared to 2002, although that increase was mainly due to exchange rate fluctuations.  In spite of an increasing beneficiary base, the 2004 budget had declined by some 5 per cent, in real terms, to $330 million, posing a major challenge to maintaining services at the current level and quality.  The Agency had striven to address those financial constraints by increasing efficiency and reducing costs, but funding shortfalls would continue to erode the quality of its services.

In 2003, when Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were in their greatest need, and refugee communities in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan had continued to depend on UNRWA for essential services, the international community had pledged $297 million, against the Agency’s planned expenditure of $315 million.  That was the lowest funding gap in years, but full funding of the budget remained essential, now and in 2004.  The international community must reaffirm its commitment to ensure the well-being of Palestinian refugees by providing UNRWA with the resources it needed.

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 subjected to curfews and closures for 39 consecutive months, critically eroding the territories’ economy.  Sixty per cent of Palestinians lived in poverty, and more than 50 per cent were unemployed.  Their homes and infrastructure were destroyed daily.  Suffering and despair had deepened, particularly among refugees.  The international community’s continued commitment and support were needed for economic recovery.

Since October 2000, UNRWA had delivered food and other emergency assistance on a regular basis to almost 1.3 million refugees, nearly half the total population, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he continued.  Malnutrition among refugees in the Gaza Strip had risen to 17 per cent.  Without UNRWA’s targeted food aid to some 220,000 vulnerable families, that percentage would have been higher, and would indeed rise if the current political impasse remained and UNRWA’s emergency appeal continued.

UNRWA’s assistance over and above its regular programme and services to more than four million refugees illustrated its robust operational capacities, extensive infrastructure and dedicated staff, he said.  For some three generations of refugees, UNRWA had provided schooling and medical services, particularly primary, material and child-health care; and microfinancing to lift many out of poverty through small enterprise start-ups -- a programme which had recently expanded into Syria and Jordan.  Educated and skilled refugees had contributed immensely to social and economic development.

However, resources made available to UNRWA had not kept pace with the burgeoning needs of the growing refugee population, he said.  While UNRWA’s 2003 income of $297 million was higher than that of the previous year, the General Fund remained underfunded, and successive funding shortfalls had taken their toll on the Agency’s service infrastructure and operational capacity.  UNRWA’s schools, training centres, health clinics and installations were operating on a maintenance budget.  Since 1993, the Agency could only afford to build 16 schools to accommodate 100,000 new students.  In Jordan, 93 per cent of schools ran on double shifts.  UNRWA doctors had to treat more than 100 patients daily, and staff had faced salary cuts.

UNRWA’s 2004 budget was $330 million, a 3 per cent increase in nominal terms over 2002, but a 5 per cent decrease in real terms over the same period, he said.  The 2004 budget would minimally cover the Agency’s financial needs, including $4 million in salary increases and $7 million in working capital requirements.  Funds would be spent in three core areas:  71 per cent in education, 21 per cent in health care, and 8 per cent in relief and social services.

He appealed to Member States to fully fund the Agency’s 2004 budget on a timely basis and urged donor countries who had reduced their contributions to bring them up to previous levels in order to prevent undue cash flow pressures in the coming year.  UNRWA’s 24,000 staff members were almost all Palestine refugees, he said, stressing the significance of UNRWA’s work in not only providing services but as a symbol of the international community’s commitment to the well-being of Palestine refugees and the search for a just and durable peace in the region.

Pledges


CountryAmount PledgedLocal Currency
United Arab Emirates$500,000
Denmark$7,000,00050,000,000 Danish Kroner
Japannot available
Sweden22,000,000 euros
Luxembourg1,600,000 euros
Republic of Korea$100,000
Switzerland8,000,000 Swiss francs
Holy See$20,000
United Statesnot available but would be similar to last year
Cyprus15,000 Cyprus pounds
Indonesia$10,000
Tunisia12,000 Tunisian dinars
Kuwait$1,500,000
Thailand$30,000
Norway$14,000,000
Bahrain$30,000
India$11,000500,000 Indian rupees
Turkeynot available
United Kingdomnot available but would be similar to last year
Austria1,000,000 euros
China$80,000
Ireland1,000,000 euros (emergency)
Malaysia$25,000
European Commissionnot available but would be similar to last year
Netherlands$14,000,00011,780,000 euros


Concluding Remarks

The Observer for Palestine thanked Member States for their contributions.  The situation on the ground had continued to deteriorate; the Palestinians’ socio-economic plight was grave; and the needs of refugees had increased, she said.  The pledges made today would greatly help UNRWA provide essential services and programmes, as well as ensure refugees that they had not been forgotten by the international community.  She thanked UNRWA staff for their commitment and dedication under difficult and life-threatening circumstances.

In concluding remarks, Mr. HANSEN said that at least seven or eight countries had increased donations for the 2004 period based on pledges made today.  Pledges thus far of 19 countries totalled $72 million, a significant increase over last year’s pledge of $47.5 million, he said.  This figure did not include the pending contributions of several major donors that would be announced at a later date.


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