Amman, September 24, 2002
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) told a meeting of 27 donor and host countries in Amman, Jordan today that it faces a budget deficit of $17 million for 2002, as it tries to cope with the worst humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1948.
Mr Peter Hansen, UNRWA's Commissioner-General, told the meeting that on top of the $17 million deficit in his $301 million regular budget, fully half of UNRWA's 2002 Emergency Appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory remains unfunded.
This year UNRWA asked the international community to provide it with $173 million for food and medical aid, job creation schemes and the rebuilding of destroyed refugee shelters. So far only $87.5 million has been pledged - one third of that coming from one donor, the UAE Red Crescent Society, which will fund the rebuilding of Jenin camp - and just under $47 million has been received by the Agency. UNRWA will now be forced to cut back on food and other emergency aid for Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the West Bank despite recent studies showing growing malnutrition among children there.
Mr Hansen told the donors: "As the Agency responsible for humanitarian assistance to almost half the population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip the challenges we now face are as great as any in our long and turbulent history. There is no more efficient vehicle in the region than UNRWA for delivering humanitarian assistance, but the international community will only be able to use this vehicle if it keeps it maintained."
He added: "We have to wonder at the ability of the Palestinian population to continue coping. After two years of violence, unemployment is around 60 per cent, half the population is living below the poverty rate and hunger is on the increase. Clearly the breaking point - with consequences much worse than those we've already seen - must be somewhere close."
"The underfunding of UNRWA is a very bad message to be giving to the refugees at this incredibly difficult time. I urge the international community to make every effort in the remaining months of the year to make additional contributions." Mr Hansen also made reference to the report by the Secretary General's Personal Humanitarian Envoy, Catherine Bertini, which pinpointed the lack of access to work, services and goods, due to curfews and closures, as the main cause of humanitarian hardship.
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