Twenty-Seven Donors Pledge Contributions to United Nations Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees, with Agency Facing ‘Time of Great Challenge’
Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary
Contributions to UNRWA
1st Meeting (AM)
Twenty-seven donors today announced contributions, or their intention to contribute, to the 2013 budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as officials estimated that the chronically underfunded Agency would begin the year facing a deficit of some $69 million.
The voluntary contributions were made at a meeting of the Agency’s Ad Hoc Committee, which was established by the General Assembly as the primary forum in which donors could announce financial support. The UNRWA assists some 5 million Palestinian refugees across its five fields of operation in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
At the outset, Gaspar Martins ( Angola), General Assembly Vice-President, said that the Committee met “at a time of great challenge” for the UNRWA. In 1949, the Agency had been given a mandate to serve 750,000 refugees and displaced persons in the wake of the Arab-Israeli war the preceding year. The UNRWA had since become one of the largest United Nations operations and continued to provide direct health care, education, relief and social services as well as protection to 5 million Palestine refugees across the region. Should the Agency be unable to fulfil its mandate, “the consequences for the Middle East would be dire”, he said.
Unfortunately, year after year the Agency faced shortfalls, preventing it from fully implementing its proposed programmes, he said, urging Member States to consider all possible ways to increase their contributions to the Agency’s core budget, which covered protection, education, health, relief and social services, among others. Moreover, the Emergency Appeal for Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the Syria Response Plan, needed to be funded urgently. Projects, such as the reconstruction of the Nahr El Bared Camp in Lebanon, which was destroyed in 2007, needed support as well, with only half of the $350 million required made available thus far.
“No one should doubt that the Agency plays a critical role in the Middle East”, he said, adding that until a just and durable resolution was found, the international community must ensure, through adequate funding, that the UNRWA was able to provide assistance and protection to the long-suffering Palestine refugee population.
Briefing the Committee next, Margot Ellis, UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General, said that in many respects, it had been “a tragic 12 months” since she had last addressed the body. The year had seen added political instability and increasing levels of economic hardship, which placed further burdens on the ability of Palestinian refugees to take full control over their lives. “Their decades-long wait for peace and a just and lasting solution to their plight continues,” she said in that respect.
The recent eight-day conflict in Gaza had caused unnecessary death, injury and fear for civilian populations in both Israel and Gaza, she said. The relentless shelling of Gaza, including refugee camps, had had a deep impact on refugees, killing one UNRWA staff member and one student and damaging the Agency’s infrastructure, and leading some 12,000 refugees to seek shelter in UNRWA schools.
That recent escalation brought to light the need for the international community to reengage in seeking a solution to the situation in Gaza, she said. Of paramount importance was the lifting of the blockade, which had become particularly severe in the last five years, not withstanding the welcome – but limited – easing of measures adopted by the Government of Israel in 2010.
She said that Palestinians, including Palestinian refugees, in the West Bank also required greater protection and opportunities to fulfil their potential. At present, settlement expansion, settler violence, land expropriation, building prohibitions, increased demolitions, movement restrictions and limitations placed on herding communities continued on a daily basis. The Agency would continue to seek to improve its services to refugees, “but for your investments to bear fruit, the present trends in the West Bank must be reversed”.
Continuing, she said that the situation in Syria was alarming, particularly for the 520,000 Palestinian refugees that resided there. Historically among the poorest groups in Syria, they had suffered further from the economic collapse, and many had been displaced from their homes or had needed to accommodate displaced persons. Some 10,000 mostly Syrian internally displaced persons also sought shelter in UNRWA schools throughout Syria, she added.
To date, 56 per cent of the $53 million requested for the UNRWA’s regional response plan in Syria had been contributed or pledged. “But this is not enough”, she said, and more resources were needed as the conflict continued and an increasing number of Palestinian refugees were affected. Thus, in conjunction with other United Nations agencies, the UNRWA would be developing a revised plan which would be shared in the coming weeks.
Indeed, the Agency’s primary objective, in both periods of conflict and calm, was to ensure the full delivery of its services to Palestine refugees. Its commitment towards improving services went beyond emergency situations. The UNRWA’s core work revolved around providing quality education to approximately half a million students, running a network of 138 health centres across the region, extending microfinance loans to build financially independent Palestine refugees, providing food and cash assistance to the most vulnerable, and improving living conditions in camps. “But we can, and must, improve the services we provide across the Agency”, she stressed. Extensive work was being done in that respect.
The UNRWA’s biggest challenge was its ability to ensure sufficient funding to adequately serve Palestine refugees, she said. The Agency had started 2012 with a deficit to its General Fund of $97.5 million; that deficit had been reduced over the course of the year to $21 million. Additional incoming contributions and advances were forecast for 2013, and the deficit would likely be covered for this year. For 2013, a core budget of $657 million had been developed, and it was estimated that the year would begin with a deficit of approximately $69 million.
Considerable success had been achieved in attracting new donors, she went on to say, noting that the Russian Federation had announced that it would contribute $2 million. Brazil and Turkey had made new sizeable contributions, and Indonesia, Malaysia and South Africa had also registered significant increases. Funding from Arab donors had also grown from a 2 per cent share of the UNRWA’s General Fund contributions in 2009 to a 4 per cent share this year, and represented 10 per cent of total donor funding when factoring in emergency and project contributions.
The following countries made confirmed pledges in the following amounts: United States ($100 million), Sweden ($42.3 million), Kuwait ($2 million), Turkey ($1.25 million), United Arab Emirates ($1 million), Indonesia ($100,000), Bahrain ($50,000), Thailand ($30,000), Algeria ($25,000), Malaysia ($25,000), Lithuania ($22,000), Montenegro ($3,000), Italy (€4 million), Luxembourg (€3.75 million), Estonia (€50,000), and New Zealand ($NZ1 million).
The following delegations stated that they would retain levels of funding similar to those of 2012, subject to approval, in the amounts of: European Union ($153 million), Norway ($30 million), Denmark ($15.5 million), Netherlands (€13 million), and ( Belgium (€9.5 million).
The representative of Austria pledged €1.35 million, €750,000 of which from the Austrian Development Agency was yet to be confirmed.
Further support for the UNRWA was expressed by the representatives of Ireland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, and Switzerland, with no specific pledges announced.
Following those interventions, Yousef N. Zeidan,the observer of Palestine, thanked all those who had made pledges. He emphasized that the UNRWA had been vital in eliminating the suffering of Palestinian refugees over the last 65 years, supporting the unemployed and the sick and providing for the population in times of food insecurity. He thanked the Agency for its tireless efforts to those ends, and expressed condolences for those who had lost their lives in support of the Palestinian people, especially refugees. He further expressed his hope that there would be an early solution to the Question of Palestine in accordance with intentional refugee law and with United Nations resolution 194.
Deputy Commissioner-General Ellis then made a closing statement, also thanking delegations for their pledges.
For information media • not an official record