Question of Palestine home
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
21 September 2003
Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UNRWA,
address to the American University of Cairo
21 September 2003
From Humanitarian Crisis to Human Development
The Evolution of UNRWA’s Mandate to the Palestine Refugees
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Dignitaries, Ladies and Gentlemen
1. It gives me great pleasure to be here at this distinguished gathering in the American University in Cairo. UNRWA, or the ‘
’ as the Agency is referred to in the region, is a unique institution initially mandated to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestine refugees, but, over time, it has been tasked to provide many other developmental services to the refugee community. During the course of this lecture, I intend to discuss in some detail the origins and the subsequent evolution of UNRWA’s mandate and the manner in which the United Nations had sought to address the political and humanitarian aspects of the Palestine problem. I will then elaborate on the changing contours of UNRWA’s programmes away from relief towards human development interventions in education, health, community participation and micro-finance and micro-enterprise entrepreneurship. I also wish to dwell on the Agency’s pioneering efforts in empowering women and channeling the energies of the refugee youth. Finally, I will elaborate on the severe impact of the
Al Aqsa intifada
and of Israeli restrictions on UNRWA’s operations.
UNRWA’s Mandate – Origins and Evolution
2. The Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948 marked the rejection of the UN partition plan that was intended to guide the territorial destiny of Mandate Palestine and the status of holy sites therein. The “exodus of Palestinian Arabs” from Mandate Palestine, according to the UN
Mediator Count Bernadotte, “resulted from panic created by fighting in their communities, by rumours concerning real or alleged acts of terrorism, or expulsion”. Mindful of its role in the Palestine problem, the UN General Assembly first addressed the critical humanitarian situation of the refugees. It established the UN Relief for Palestine Refugees (UNRPR) through Resolution 212 (III) dated 19 November 1948 to provide emergency relief to Palestine refugees, in coordination with other UN, multilateral and voluntary agencies. The Assembly then focused on the political aspects of the Palestine problem. It passed Resolution 194 (III) dated 11 December 1948 whereby it established the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) mandated to “take steps to assist the Governments and authorities concerned to achieve a final settlement of all questions outstanding between them”. The UNCCP, in today’s parlance, was a “final status issues facilitator”. It dealt with the status of and access to the holy places, regional economic development including transportation and communication networks, and most importantly, the issue of the Palestine refugees. The UN General Assembly resolved in paragraph 11 of resolution 194 (III) that “the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss or damage to property..”. The UNCCP was instructed to facilitate “the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation and to maintain close relations with the Director” of the UNRPR. Thus emerged the two
mechanisms of the UN to address the humanitarian and the comprehensive political aspects of the Palestine refugee problem.
3. The UNCCP’s efforts to bring about the repatriation of refugees during 1949-1951 failed. The UNCCP then turned its attention towards resettling the Palestine refugees in the Arab host states and focused on ways and means for the “economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees”. Recognising that host states and refugees were just as opposed to resettlement as Israel was to repatriation, the UNCCP established the Economic Survey Mission (ESM), and for the first time, focused on the objective of reintegrating “the refugees into the economic life of the area on a self-sustaining basis”. The ESM noted that repatriation of the refugees “requires
political decisions outside” its “competence”, and noted that “the only immediate constructive step in sight” would be “to give the refugees an opportunity to work where they now are.” It recommended the establishment of a United Nations agency designed to continue relief activities and initiate job-creation projects. Acting on this recommendation, the General Assembly created UNRWA in its Resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 to “carry out in collaboration with local governments the direct relief and works programmes’ as recommended by the ESM, and to “consult with the interested Near Eastern Governments concerning measures to be taken by them preparatory to the time when international assistance for relief and works projects is no longer available”. The Assembly further recognized that “continued assistance for the relief of Palestine refugees is necessary to prevent conditions of starvation and distress among them and to further conditions of peace and stability”, however, without prejudice to paragraph 11 of its Resolution 194 (III). This provided UNRWA with a much broader humanitarian assistance and development mandate, requiring the Agency to function apolitically in a highly charged regional political environment.
4. The reintegration theme resurfaced when the General Assembly passed resolution 393(V) dated 2 December 1950 considering that “the reintegration of the refugees into the economic life of the Near East, either by repatriation or resettlement is essential in preparation for the time when international assistance is no longer available, and for the realization of conditions of peace and stability in the area”. It instructed UNRWA “to establish a reintegration fund which shall be utilized ..for the permanent re-establishment of refugees and their removal from relief”. The Assembly through resolution 513 (VI) dated 26 January 1952 set out the priorities of the Agency when it endorsed that USD 200 million be spent on reintegration and USD 50 million on relief. It also requested UNRWA to “continue… to provide assistance for the health, welfare and education programme”.
5. During the initial six years of its operations, while providing relief, primary health and education services, UNRWA initiated four types of programmes aimed at reintegrating the refugees into the economic life of the region : i) “Work Relief” i.e. small scale training and employment creation; ii) “Works Projects” i.e. medium-sized public sector government-controlled projects such as road-building and tree- planting aimed at employment creation; iii) assistance to and subsidization for small numbers of Palestine refugees willing to resettle including to places such as: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Columbia, Chile, Egypt, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Sierra Leone, Saudi Arabia, United States, Venezuela, Germany, and Yemen; iv) large scale regional development projects with regional governments. It became clear to the Agency that the first three programmes held little promise for improving the economic well being of the refugees in a significant manner. UNRWA thus began to focus on large-scale regional water development schemes as envisaged by the ESM. However, a combination of economic and regional political factors thwarted efforts in this direction. Refugees and host countries were opposed to efforts at large-scale refugee resettlement through economic reintegration, Arab states and Israel quarreled over the modalities of regional development schemes and the funding enthusiasm of the international community could not be sustained. This resulted in the gradual shift away from reintegration to relief and human resource development through successive UN resolutions.
6. UN General Assembly Resolution 614 (VII) of 6 November 1952 recognised that “immediate realization” of the reintegration goals has not been possible and noted that “increased relief expenditures are therefore required, with a resultant reduction in the reintegration funds”. Resolution 916 (X) dated 3 December 1955 noted that “no substantial progress has been made in the programme for reintegration of refugees”. The 1956 Suez conflict sealed any hopes for large scale regional development projects and UNRWA decisively turned to a different direction in assisting the Palestine refugees. Resolution 1315 (XIII) dated 12 December 1958 requested the Director of the Agency “to plan and carry out projects capable of supporting substantial numbers of refugees and, in particular, programmes relating to education and vocational training”. Resolution 1456 (XIV) dated 9 December 1959 directed the Agency “to continue its programme of relief for the refugees and ….. expand its programme of self-support and vocational training”.
7. This emphasis on vocational training, self-support, primary education, primary health and continued relief for the needy refugees established the primary blue-print for UNRWA operations. In this period, UNRWA faced the difficult task of verifying the refugee relief rolls that it inherited and evolving its own refugee registration system and in the process had to establish its operational definition of a Palestine refugee, something that was not done by the UNCCP or the General Assembly. The Agency was however, asked by the General Assembly to extend support to some categories of Palestinians who did not fit its operational definition of a Palestine refugee. Thus, Resolution 916 (X) dated 3 December 1955, noted “the serious need of the other claimants for relief…namely, the frontier villages in Jordan, the non-refugee population in the Gaza Strip, a number of the refugees in Egypt, and certain of the Bedouin”. At that time, UNRWA pleaded lack of funds to assist them, though some categories of the ‘other claimants’ such as Jerusalem poor and Bedouins in Jordan and the Gaza Strip did receive UNRWA assistance. Later on, in the aftermath of the 1967 conflict, UN General Assembly Resolution 2252 (ES-V) dated 4 July 1967, endorsed the efforts of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, the amended title of the Chief Executive Officer of the Agency previously referred to as the Director, “to provide humanitarian assistance, as far as practicable, on an emergency basis and as a temporary measure, to other persons in the area who are at present displaced and are in serious need of immediate assistance as a result of the recent hostilities”.
8. The 1967 conflict and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since then created new realities. Israel asked UNRWA to continue its operations in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT). The international community, through the UNGA, in recognition of the fact UNRWA has been the sole significant international presence in the OPT, has sought to use UNRWA as a mechanism to discharge some of its non-humanitarian assistance-related responsibilities towards the Palestine refugees. One such area was of providing soft protection to the refugees through activities such as: registration and documentation not related to service provision; protection by monitoring and publicity, especially of human rights violations; and promotion of aspects of international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law especially at times when the security and human rights of the Palestine refugees were under particular threat. The Agency’s “soft” protection activities began in 1982, following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and the Sabra and Shatila massacre. In resolution 37/120 J of 16 December 1982, the General Assembly urged “the Secretary- General, in consultation with the UNRWA, and pending the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem, to undertake effective measures to guarantee the safety and security and the legal and human rights of the Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories.” As a result, UNRWA undertook to monitor the security of Palestine refugees in occupied Lebanon, issued public statements on the situation from time to time, and “took up the need for appropriate action…to protect the refugees” with the Government of Israel and various members of the Security Council.
9. In addition, the General Assembly requested in resolution 37/120 I of 16 December 1982 that the Secretary-General, in cooperation with UNRWA, “issue identification cards to all Palestine refugees and their descendants, irrespective of whether they are recipients or not of rations and services from the Agency, as well as to all displaced persons and to those who have been prevented from returning to their homes as a result of the 1967 hostilities, and their descendants.” The issuance of identification cards to those refugees and displaced persons not registered with the Agency required the concerted cooperation of the numerous countries in which they had taken-up residence over the years. In the absence of the political will for such cooperation, the Secretary-General and UNRWA were unable to carry out this “soft” protection measure.
of 1987-1993 provided the next occasion for UNRWA to be called upon to implement “soft” protection activities in relation to the Palestine refugees. This came by way of Security Council resolution 605 of 22 December 1987, which after taking note of and strongly deploring Israeli violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people in the OPT, called upon the Secretary-General to assess the situation and to present to the Security Council “recommendations on ways and means for ensuring the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilians under Israeli occupation.” In accordance with this resolution, the Secretary-General provided a report to the Security Council in which he outlined four principal means by which the protection of the Palestinian people in the OPT, including the refugees, could be secured: (1) physical protection; (2) legal protection; (3) protection by way of general assistance; and (4) protection by publicity. Of these four protection mechanisms,
UNRWA was specifically requested by the Secretary-General to enhance its “general assistance” capacity through the addition “of extra international staff” in the OPT to,
, intervene with the authorities of the occupying Power in an effort to provide a modicum of “passive protection” to the Palestinians. Thus was initiated the Agency’s Refugee Affairs Officer (RAO) Programme, which
included its “programme of general assistance and protection.”
11. The RAO programme, which began in January 1988, was intended: (1) to facilitate “UNRWA operations in the difficult prevailing circumstances” of the
; and (2) to provide “a degree of passive protection for the refugee [and, eventually, non-refugee] population.” The general assistance and protection programme became a central supportive feature of UNRWA’s programmes in the OPT by the early 1990s. By 1991 it had come to include a “legal aid scheme” run by the Agency with the purpose of helping the “refugees deal with a range of problems of life under occupation,” including “sustained follow-up in cases of deaths, injuries and harassment; bureaucratic difficulties in obtaining various permits; discrimination in access to courts of law, welfare benefits, etc.; travel restrictions; and, various forms of collective punishment.” The conclusion of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (DOP) in 1993, which marked the beginning of what is known as the Oslo peace process, and the establishment of the PA ushered in a period in which it was thought the RAO programme would soon no longer be required. Accordingly, the programme was officially suspended in the Gaza field in May 1994 and in the West Bank field in April 1996. During the
Al Aqsa intifada
, in order to facilitate the Agency's activities in the OPT under its emergency programme, the Operational Support Officers (OSO) programme was introduced in 2000 to assist in facilitating the delivery of humanitarian goods, securing the safe passage of Agency staff through checkpoints and more generally enhancing the proper implementation of Agency programmes in accordance with United Nations norms.
12. The General Assembly also involved the Agency in the momentum created by the Madrid and Oslo peace frameworks. Through its resolution 48/40 A dated 10 December 1993, the Assembly noted that “the new context created by the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government… will have major consequences for the activities of
the Agency, which is henceforth called upon, within the framework of strengthened cooperation with the specialized agencies and the World Bank, to make a decisive contribution towards giving a fresh impetus to the economic and social stability of the occupied territories”. This endorsed the Agency’s Peace Implementation Programme designed to improve services and infrastructure for the refugees and in the camps in the OPT.
13. UNRWA remains unique in the UN system as an operational body,
in nature, whose primary relationship is with the General Assembly, as a subsidiary organization of the Assembly itself. It was intended as a temporary organization that would provide emergency relief to the Palestine refugees alongside other UN mechanisms that were designed to address the political issues in their entirety. The collapse or failure of the UN mechanisms designed to handle political issues of the Palestine problem until the Oslo process has forced UNRWA to metamorphose into an all-purpose vehicle. The changing contours of its mandate have reflected this. At its core, the Agency’s mandate continues to be to provide essential humanitarian services and empower the refugees through developing their human capital until there is a just solution to the refugee problem.
UNRWA’s Operations and Programmes
14. The evolution of the Agency’s mandate has invariably led to a reprioritizing of its operations and programme activities. In 1950, Agency expenditure on relief was USD 18.768 million accounting for around 97 per cent of the total expenditure. A meager USD 207,000 was spent on education accounting for 1 per cent of expenditure and an amount of USD 245,000 was spent on health services accounting for around 1.3 per cent of the total expenditure. Projects, special and emergency activities began as expenditure items since 1965 though they became significant budgetary components since 1991 with the launching of the EMLOT and EPA. The move towards projectization and the launching of the PIP in 1993 significantly boosted this expenditure head. By 2002, under the regular budget of the Agency, expenditure on relief accounted for only 9.5 per cent at USD 27.8 million, with the education programme emerging as the largest one with an expenditure of USD 175.45 million accounting for 60 per cent, health programme having an expenditure of around USD 52.25
million accounting for 18 per cent of total expenditure and common and technical and operational services totaling USD 38.35 million accounting for around 12.5 per cent of the regular budget expenditure. As for the non-regular budget funds in 2002, projects amounted to USD 16.25 million and emergency appeal funds for the OPT amounted to USD 82.09 million.
: The Palestine refugee community has traditionally placed great emphasis on education as the key to a better future. Despite often difficult circumstances, Palestinians are one of the most highly educated groups in the Middle East. This achievement has been made possible in large part by the contribution of UNRWA in educating three generations of refugees. UNRWA operates one of the largest school systems in the Middle East and has been the main provider of basic education to Palestine refugees for nearly five decades. The Agency provides primary and junior secondary schooling free of charge for all Palestine refugee children in the area of operations. Vocational and technical training courses are given in the eight UNRWA vocational training centres. The Agency also runs an extensive teacher-training programme, and offers university scholarships to qualified refugee youth.
16. The number of UNRWA schools has increased over ten fold from 64 in 1951 to 656 in 2002; UNRWA teachers increased over twenty times from 730 in 1951 to 15161 in 2002; enrollment in UNRWA elementary schools increased ten fold from 33631 in 1951 to 336230 in 2002; and enrollment in UNRWA preparatory schools increased over 18 times from 8370 in 1951 to 152427 in 2002. UNRWA pioneering efforts in education have brought about gender parity in its schools, with the percentage of female pupils increasing from 33 per cent in 1951 to 50.05 per cent in 2002. The UNRWA school system has low repetition rates, low drop-out rates and high levels of academic achievement. Over 60,000 have graduated from UNRWA's vocational and technical training centres in the region, and over 17,000 from UNRWA pre-service teacher training centres and education science faculties. UNRWA was the pioneer in vocational and technical training and established in 1962 in the West Bank the first residential women's vocational training centre in the Middle East. UNRWA aims to give Palestine refugee pupils a basic education comparable to that provided in government schools in the region, so
that they are on an equal footing in gaining access to educational and employment opportunities. Consequently, UNRWA schools use the same curricula and textbooks as the host government/Authority schools, and pupils sit, wherever applicable, for national exams.
: When UNRWA began operations in 1950, Palestine refugees suffered high rates of infant mortality; malnutrition was prevalent; and communicable diseases such as malaria, gastroenteritis, tuberculosis, trachoma and venereal diseases caused severe levels of illness and mortality. Environmental health conditions were appalling, with most refugees living in tents or communal barracks. Water was collected from public distribution points and communal toilets and bath houses were the only sanitation facilities. One of the most urgent tasks UNRWA faced was to reduce malnutrition and undernourishment amongst infants and children. In 1951, a supplementary feeding programme was started to provide fresh mid-day meals to children up to age 15, as well as monthly dry rations, milk and cod liver oil to children, pregnant and nursing women and tuberculosis patients. A special oral rehydration formula (Najjar salt) for the treatment of diarrhoea was introduced. By 1970, UNRWA was running 20 rehydration and nutrition centres to combat the high incidence of iron-deficiency anaemia and deficiencies in proteins, and vitamins A and D amongst children. An expanded programme of immunization was introduced in mother-and-child health clinics in 1954 to provide refugees with protection against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, smallpox, tuberculosis and enteric group fevers, and mass immunization campaigns began for school-age and pre-school-age children. Over the years UNRWA has introduced other vaccines, namely polio, Hepatitis B and the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. As a result of the Agency's pioneering work and through immunizing up to 99 per cent of refugee children under age 3, there have been no serious epidemics of communicable diseases amongst the refugee population.
18. UNRWA's health programme focuses on comprehensive preventive and primary health care. Services covering medical care, family health, disease control and prevention, and health education are provided directly and at no cost to Palestine refugees through the Agency's network of 122 primary health care facilities located both inside and outside refugee camps. Medical care services consist of
outpatient care, dental care and the rehabilitation of physically disabled persons. Clinics for refugees suffering from non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, and specialist care covering paediatrics, obstetrics, gynaecology and cardiology, are provided in 112 health facilities. In addition to dental clinics in 88 health centres, eight mobile dental teams provide community oral health care in more remote areas. Thirteen clinics in Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip also provide physical rehabilitation services. 96 health centres are equipped with laboratories and 14 also have radiology units. In order to reduce protein-calorie malnutrition and deficiencies in other nutrients such as iodine, vitamin A and iron, a nutrition and supplementary feeding programme targets children, pregnant women, nursing mothers, tuberculosis patients and hospitalized patients. The family health programme aims to improve the general health and quality of life of the refugee population by focusing on preventive care to women and children. Comprehensive mother-and-child health care (MCH) was expanded in 1993 and all health facilities now offer family planning services. There is regular monitoring of women registered at MCH clinics to identify those who may be at risk, particularly during pregnancies and booster immunizations are given to pregnant women. There is also regular growth monitoring and protective immunization for new-born infants and for children up to age 3 registered at MCH clinics.
19. Schoolchildren are given booster immunizations and are regularly monitored for the early detection of childhood diseases. School health teams and camp medical officers visit UNRWA schools to examine new pupils and to give booster vaccinations. National immunizations days are organized in cooperation with the host authorities. Disease prevention and control programmes include the expanded programme on immunization to reduce communicable diseases, and the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. As the life expectancy of the refugee population has increased, so has the need for the detection and control of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and cancer. Programmes for cancer prevention include promotion of self-examination and early detection of breast cancer. The Agency is working towards the elimination of tetanus and eradication of polio, the prevention of diseases transmitted through environmental channels such as brucellosis and intestinal
parasites, and the control of re-emerging infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. Health education courses and campaigns promote awareness of issues such as personal health and hygiene, environmental sanitation and prevention of disabilities. A programme for the prevention of tobacco use among school children was started in recent years and an educational programme on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases was instituted in cooperation with UNAIDS and WHO.
20. UNRWA provides assistance towards the cost of secondary medical care, especially emergency and life-saving treatment, at public, nongovernmental and private hospitals. However, with the rise in hospital costs in the 1990s, and a reduction in the Agency's budget, UNRWA has been forced to increase the percentage of cost sharing by the refugees themselves to between 12-40 per cent of treatment costs, as well as limit the number of referrals and discontinue reimbursements for certain treatments. Hospitalization costs for special hardship cases, the poorest of refugees, are fully covered by the Agency. However, the problem of hospitalization costs has become particularly acute in Lebanon where most of the refugees are unable to cover their share and so cannot get the treatment they need. UNRWA runs a small 43- bed hospital in Qalqilia in the West Bank with strong support from the local community. A major contribution to the Palestinian health infrastructure in the Gaza Strip is the 232-bed European Gaza Hospital, a joint initiative by UNRWA and the European Union. Construction was completed in 1996 and after commissioning is completed, both the hospital and an affiliated Gaza College of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences will be integrated into the health care system of the Palestinian Authority.
Relief and Social Services
: The mission of the relief and social services programme is to provide humanitarian assistance for Palestine refugees who suffer from acute socio-economic hardship and to promote self-reliance among less advantaged members of the refugee community, in particular women, youth and the physically and mentally challenged. In addition, the programme serves as a custodian for historical refugee records and updates and maintains them in order to determine eligibility for all Agency services. There were some 4 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA on 30 June 2003. The largest number of refugees, some 1.7 million, were
registered in Jordan, around 900, 000 refugees were registered in the Gaza Strip, around 650, 000 in the West Bank, around 410, 000 in the Syrian Arab Republic and around 390, 000 in Lebanon. Of the registered population, 51.0 per cent were 18 years of age or under, 36.2 per cent were between 18 and 40, 13.8 per cent were between 41 and 60 years of age, and 10.1 per cent were 61 years of age or above.
22. The Special Hardship Programme targets the most impoverished refugee families and focused on providing them with a minimal “safety net” of survival support. As of June 2003, a total of 58,733 families, comprising 233,044 individuals, benefited from a blend of assistance including basic food support, shelter repair or reconstruction, hospitalization subsidies, selective cash assistance and preferential access to UNRWA training centres. Some of this assistance was administered through the health and education programmes. The special hardship programme accounted for 84 per cent of the RSS annual budget. Special hardship cases represented 5.70 per cent of the total registered population.
23. Shelter repair and reconstruction is carried out though extra-budgetary funds and rehabilitation is achieved either through a self-help approach, with the Agency providing financial and technical assistance and client families arranging volunteer labour, or through small camp-based contractors, thereby creating much-needed employment within the refugee community. An estimated 25 per cent of SHC families (58,261 persons) as of June 2003 lived in substandard housing that did not meet UNRWA criteria for structural soundness, proper ventilation and space appropriate to family size. Most fields adopted the use of the self-help approach to varying degrees, to discourage total refugee dependency on the Agency for housing and to encourage more family initiative and a deeper sense of ownership in the final outcome.
24. Social Services were initiated in 1990 to encourage self-reliance in the refugee community through poverty alleviation schemes, and community-based, locally-managed institutions and services concerned with women and development, the rehabilitation and integration of refugees with disabilities, and youth activities and leadership training.
Microfinance and Microenterprise Programme (MMP)
: UNRWA launched its MMP in the OPT in June 1991. This initiative was taken in response to rapidly deteriorating economic conditions marked by high unemployment and spreading poverty following the outbreak of the first
in 1987 and the Gulf War. After 1993 the programme intensified its activities in support of the peace process through UNRWA's Peace Implementation Programme. The MMP is now organised around four revolving loan funds in Gaza and two in the West Bank. These make loans to small-scale enterprises (the Small-Scale Enterprise product), to women organised in groups (the Solidarity Group Lending product), to microenterprises (the Microenterprise Credit product), and to workers and low-paid professionals (Consumer Lending product). The supported businesses range in size from micro-vendors and microenterprises employing just one or two individuals to small industries employing up to 30 workers. The funds' clients represent distinct groups of borrowers, so that the Microfinance and Microenterprise Programme meets a variety of needs, providing working capital and investment funds to industries and service firms and also alleviating poverty and generating incomes among owners of the smallest enterprises.
26. The programme was recognised as a "special programme" reporting directly to me in a similar reporting and organizational relationship to UNRWA's three core programmes, i.e. health, education and relief and social services. The MMP is expanding into Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic, a new central office is being established to consolidate management, reporting, policy formation and technical supervision. The expansion of the programme was rationalised through the introduction of a new, decentralised model of product-management that operates through a network of branch offices. There are now a total of nine branch offices in the whole region.
UNRWA’s efforts in empowering women
27. The Education Programme has from the beginning embraced gender parity as one of its main objectives. This has spanned the Agency’s elementary and preparatory school networks, both at the level of pupils and teaching staff. while the elementary schools achieved this objective over three decades ago, it has been a slower process in the Agency’s preparatory schools, primarily due to socio-cultural choices.
UNRWA’s vocational and technical education programme offers practical training to Palestine refugee youths to equip them with skills and expertise relevant to Middle East labour markets. The Agency runs eight vocational and technical training centres with a current capacity for 4,891 trainees. Participation rate of Palestine refugee women is generally on the rise, accounting for almost 30 percent of trainees in all courses Agency-wide. In particular courses such as pre and in-service teacher training and technical/semi professional training, women now account for 71.6 and 64.2 per cent respectively of all trainees. In a further effort to improve the human resources of Palestine refugee women, UNRWA in 2001 revised the admissions policy at its Education Science Faculty in Jordan, which offers pre-service teacher training leading to a first-level university degree, by assigning 50 per cent of the places to qualified Palestine refugee women in order to promote gender-balance in the faculty.
28. Recognising the importance of women and child welfare among refugee communities, which are particularly vulnerable population sub-groups in their respective societies, the Agency has focused its primary health care, family health, and disease prevention and control efforts in this direction. Women of reproductive age and children below 15 years of age constitute approximately 58 percent of the population. As of June 2002, its family health services covered 92 percent of the registered refugee population below the age of three and 59 percent of expected pregnancies among refugee women of reproductive age on the basis of current crude birth rates.
29. The Solidarity Group Lending product (SGL) of the MMP targets loans to women entrepreneurs, most of whom worked in the informal sector. This product is also a working capital loan but is provided with nominal collateral. In a pioneering concept introduced in the Gaza field, women guaranteed each other’s loans by forming solidarity groups, whereby each woman in the group could receive a new loan only if the members of her group were timely in their payments. This product has remained the most resilient of all in the MMP range, managing to reach an annual repayment rate of 91 percent despite the current conditions of strife in the Gaza Strip. Since 1994, around 21,000 loans valued at over US$ 15 million have been provided to businesses owned by women.
30. The agency’s focus was on empowering women in the refugee community in the various ways that I have described here: through elementary and preparatory schooling; equipping them with a knowledge and skill base appropriate to the labour market; focusing on women and child health and welfare; emphasising relief assistance to refugee women in lower income households; and making available appropriate funding products for enabling entrepreneurial refugee women to successfully initiate and sustain microenterprises. These have been pioneering efforts of UNRWA not only in the region but in the UN system world-wide. This appears even more remarkable if it is noted that unlike other UN agencies UNRWA is directly involved in administering its programmes and services to around four million registered refugees through its 23,500 strong staff in five areas of operations. The development concepts introduced by the Agency while providing its services to the refugees were later replicated in other developmental contexts world-wide and are today central instruments in poverty alleviation and longer term humanitarian assistance.
Registered Palestine Refugees – Demographics – Youth Bulge
31. There are over a billion young people in the 15-24 age group in the world and they represent the largest concentration of youth in recent human history. This situation is particularly true in the case of Arab youth. In the Arab world, the median age is 19 years, indicating that 50 percent of the population is below this age. For the year 2000, amongst all Arab countries 18.7 percent of the total population was in this age group. The “youth bulge” in the Arab world, represents both an opportunity and a potential threat. Such numbers of young people represent an unprecedented opportunity for socio-economic development and transformation if there are adequate investments in their human development. With proper education and health standards, these youth can help transform Arab societies. However, if such youth are not provided with adequate opportunities for employment, social advancement and political voice, their frustration and despair could potentially destabilize Arab societies and economies.
32. In the case of the registered Palestine refugee population, the youth bulge is particularly significant. Since the 1950s, the 15-59 age group
of registered refugees has constituted between 50-60 percent of the total refugee population. As of 2002, around 56 per cent of the registered Palestine refugees are under 25 years of age, with 19 per cent in the 15-24 age group. UNRWA’s programme interventions in elementary and preparatory education, vocational and technical training, primary health, relief and social services and micro-finance and micro-enterprises have been instrumental in developing the human potential of the Palestine refugees and in transforming them into active contributors to the socio-economic well being of their communities and the societies they live in. Refugee youth have particularly benefited from the vocational and technical training programmes and through the community participation-orientation of UNRWA’s social services. Such development concepts introduced by the Agency focusing on human development and harnessing the power of youth since the late 1950s, were later replicated in other developmental contexts.
Impact of the Al Aqsa
on UNRWA operations
33. The severe economic downturn that the Palestinian economy has been experiencing since September 2000 is unprecedented in recent times. Labour flows have virtually ground to a halt as closures and other measures continued to keep large numbers of Palestinians unemployed. According to a World Bank report published in May 2003, 92,000 Palestinians lost their jobs in Israel and the Israeli settlements while another 105,000 jobs were lost in the OPT. Unemployment remained at a very high level, peaking at 45 per cent at the end of the third quarter of 2002. Real gross national income shrank by 38 per cent from its 1999 level at the end of 2002. Real per capita income fell by 46 per cent, and total investment declined by approximately 90 per cent during that same period. As a result, approximately 60 per cent of the Palestinian population is living below the poverty line.
34. The environment in which the Agency carries out its operations in the OPT continues to affect negatively its ability to deliver services. The World Bank estimates that the physical damage from the conflict has reached a figure of about $728 million by 30 August 2002. Among the buildings damaged and equipment destroyed are UNRWA installations, such as schools, training centres, and health-care
facilities. Closures and checkpoint delays prevent schools from operating normally as large numbers of teachers and students can not reach their schools or return to their homes. Office workers, doctors and nurses can not reach their health centres and clinics, trucks carrying humanitarian supplies can not reach their destinations in time, ambulances are delayed or prevented from moving patients needing urgent treatment, and UNRWA school buildings are taken over by Israeli forces and used as bases and detention centres. Agency vehicles are fired on, and staff members are killed, injured, beaten or humiliated by Israeli soldiers. Eight UNRWA staff members have been killed in Israeli military operations since March 2002 in the OPT, two of them in the line of duty. This is truly unprecedented.
35. In the West Bank, military operations carried out by Israeli forces, which include the imposition of curfews and closures and the creation of closed military zones, has an adverse impact on the Agency's ability to carry out its humanitarian functions in support of the Palestine refugees. Movement of humanitarian goods, particularly in places where supplies of food, medicines and other items are urgently needed, is often blocked, delayed or made very difficult. In the Gaza Strip, the external closures imposed on the area and the internal closures that effectively bisect or trisect the Strip for significant periods of time lead to severe disruption in the delivery of UNRWA humanitarian supplies to distribution centres and other installations. The Israeli authorities have also imposed severe restrictions on the movement of UNRWA’s international staff into and out of the Gaza Strip, stranding senior officials on either side of the Erez crossing. These unprecedented restrictions considerably impair the ability of UNRWA to function effectively.
36. UNRWA has sought to alleviate the suffering of the Palestine refugee community in the OPT through an extensive emergency assistance programme. UNRWA’s largest activity has been the provision of food aid to over 1.3 million refugees. Its emergency employment programme has generated 1,724,329 work days in 2002. UNRWA also provided remedial education to its pupils and psychological counseling to children and adults. The Agency also provided temporary accommodation and emergency assistance to the refugees when their shelters were destroyed. It launched several re-housing projects to afford the refugees new dwellings which conform to
standards of minimum human decency. In the West Bank, after a year of heavy destruction as a result of the intensive Israeli military operations, UNRWA expanded its shelter rehabilitation and rehousing programmes. Re-construction of the destroyed area of Jenin camp, large-scale shelter repair and rehabilitation of water and sewerage networks were undertaken during the reporting period. Meanwhile the rhythm of shelter destruction in the Gaza Strip increased significantly, necessitating the expansion of major reconstruction and re-housing programmes there.
Dignitaries, Ladies and Gentlemen,
37. I have sought to convey to you the complicated and tortuous history and evolution of UNRWA’s mandate and programmes since 1950. In the past fifty years, the registered refugee population has grown over four fold from around 875,000 in 1953 to 4.08 million as of 30 June 2003. The primary emphasis of Agency services to the refugees shifted from relief to human development. Yet, due to the ongoing strife in the OPT, the Agency is forced to provide emergency relief alongside its regular programme interventions. UNRWA was and remains an operational Agency. It has always emphasized creative and practical solutions to serve its beneficiaries during various crises in its areas of operations. It took on the task of providing emergency relief to the most vulnerable segments of the population in an apolitical manner. During the major part of its existence, UNRWA faced endemic funding constraints and had to adapt and reform itself to continue to extend its services.
38. UNRWA’s focus on continued provision of essential humanitarian services to the Palestine refugees should be seen in the context of its mandate to prevent conditions of starvation and distress among the refugee community and to promote the conditions of peace and stability. The evolution and the range of such services indicate that in the absence of a just and durable solution to the refugee problem and in a context of statelessness, regional political tensions, economic marginalisation and vulnerability that is characteristic of refugee status, UNRWA’s efforts can only develop the human potential of refugees and enable them to be more self-reliant. Such efforts have
helped Palestine refugees weather socio-economic and political vicissitudes over the past five decades while maintaining the barest minimum of acceptable living standards. Only a just and durable solution of the refugee problem that also addresses the statelessness that is the lot of the majority of Palestine refugees and the issues of occupation and settlement construction that impact on Palestine refugees in the OPT, can more comprehensively address and further their larger developmental, socio-economic and political aspirations and potential.