Lebanon + 1 more

Statement of the Commissioner-General to the Advisory Commission

News and Press Release
Originally published
Dead Sea, Amman

I. Introduction

Distinguished colleagues:

I am pleased to welcome you to our second meeting this year. As on previous occasions, we have come together at a time when our region is fraught by dramatic developments. I view the relationship between UNRWA and the Advisory Commission as particularly important in an environment that is so highly charged, so politically vexing and increasingly problematic for the Agency's operations. Together, we have worked hard to re-charge this Commission's sense of mission and to nurture our relationship. And as the challenges confronting UNRWA increase, so does the value of the support this Commission provides, and the importance of that support to the well-being of Palestine refugees.

II. Regional Developments

oPt: I wish I could begin on a positive note, but I am afraid that the realities of the West Bank and Gaza leave me no choice by to sound an alarm. This past Wednesday, two of our area staff, Hassan Ahmad El-Leham and Abdul Fateh Hussein Abu-Ghali lost their lives in the crossfire of inter-factional violence. We were left with no choice but to partially suspend our operations in Gaza. Given the dire humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable refugees, this was a difficult decision, fortunately now rescinded in the wake of the relative calm prevailing so far since Hamas has taken complete control of the Gaza Strip. We are now carefully watching the situation in the West Bank.

Over a year has passed since the imposition of comprehensive international sanctions on the Palestinian Authority. We predicted that such a drastic step would lead to terrible consequences, and we are witnessing their full impact today. The results are plain to see: internal conflict, the collapse of the economy and an uncertain future, particularly as regards a viable Palestinian state along the 1967 lines.

One consequence of the year and a half boycott has been a surge in the demand for UNRWA services. Our regular services, in particular in the health sector, are under severe strain as those refugees who formerly could afford alternative services turn to UNRWA in the face of economic hardship. Demand has also risen sharply for emergency assistance. In many cases, refugees have sought assistance for the first time after decades of self-reliance. Despite the mechanisms put in place, as with the TIM, in an attempt to ameliorate the salary crisis, demand continues to grow.

I often express my admiration for the strength and dignity of the Palestinian people, and in particular for the resilience of its social fabric. Years of armed conflict, humiliation and dispossession did not succeed in denting their values. Today, what I see in Gaza are people desperately struggling to maintain these societal values. With the advent of the National Unity Government, I believed that an opportunity had arisen for the international community to resume its support to the Palestinian people. I take this opportunity to reiterate my call to you to re-engage with the Palestinian people. I make this call with the utmost urgency, for the sake of peace and for the sake of saving human lives.

Given UNRWA's extensive field presence in the occupied Palestinian territory, our staff have found themselves on the frontline, facing the full force of grave conditions in both Gaza and the West Bank. The hopelessness of the situation and the ensuing radicalization of Palestinian society have led to hitherto unheard of attacks on our staff, in particular that on our Field Director in Gaza two months ago. These developments have forced UNRWA to review drastically its modus operandi in Gaza, negatively affecting our operations and limiting our operating space. Even so, I am proud to say that my staff continue to persevere and manage, against the odds, to remain highly motivated. John Ging is unable to be here to brief you on the initiatives he and his colleagues have undertaken in Gaza field to improve the quality of education and to provide a summer full of meaningful activities for almost 200,000 children. He is determined to ensure that these programmes go ahead, albeit with a slight delay. The Director of my Office, Michael Kingsley-Nyinah will read a message from John under the next agenda item.

The Director of my Office and I are now the only international staff based at Gaza Headquarters, and there is little prospect of my international colleagues returning, even in the medium term. As a result, more permanent, if very inconvenient, arrangements are currently being made for our international staff to work from Jerusalem and Amman.

In the West Bank, aside from recent events resulting from the internal conflict, the burden of ever more difficult access within the territory, as well as to East Jerusalem, is a matter of concern. The obstacles to free movement are increasingly effective, namely the checkpoints and roadblocks, settlement growth and the wall with its attendant regime of segmentation and isolation. More stringent controls at the entry points into Jerusalem, currently being developed from the Israeli side, will severely impair access by refugees to services and disrupt the functioning of our West Bank Field Office. Our new West Bank Deputy Director, Barbara Shenstone, will brief you on the latest developments. And sadly, we are seeing the legendary steadfastness of the Palestinians waning. Many of those who have the wherewithal to leave are doing so, many others are planning -- or wishing -- to depart. The seriousness of this new phenomenon is demonstrated by a recent fatwa by the Mufti, banning emigration from the territory.

Lebanon: In Lebanon, the past weeks have seen a resurgence of dramatic events. Some months ago, camp leaders in Nahr el-Bared expressed their concern as armed persons from outside the camp - and outside the region - established a presence in the camp. The ensuing events are familiar to us all.

Open warfare between the Lebanese army and the militant group in the camp caused more than 25,000 refugees to flee. Some remain in the camp under very precarious humanitarian and security circumstances. Richard Cook, the Director of our Lebanon Office, will provide you with details on these circumstances. I cannot commend enough the efforts of our staff and those of other agencies as they exert admirable efforts to assist refugees and others in need. Sadly, we lost one staff member, Adel Khalil, to sniper fire on 21 May. And one staff member still in the camp remains unaccounted for.

Amidst all the gloom, we are grateful for the generous response to our $12.7 million flash appeal. Once the guns fall silent, we will be in a position to assess the damage and prioritize re-building, the clearing of mines and unexploded ordnance, and other projects that will be required to reinstate the refugees in Nahr El-Bared. From what we know about the likely extent of the damage to the refugee camp, it is apparent that additional funding will be necessary.

UNRWA's operations in the rest of Lebanon continue with no interruption, thanks to the commitment of our staff, and the Agency remains in close contact with the Lebanese Government, to ensure emergency aid and security coordination. It is particularly noteworthy that the Camp Improvement Initiative, launched last year in close cooperation with the Government, is continuing apace.

III. Issues to be dealt with during the session of the Advisory Commission

Let me turn to the issues to be dealt with during this session of the Advisory Commission. The agenda is a particularly substantive and comprehensive one, reflecting many policy issues facing UNRWA. Preparing for this session and providing the Commission with all the reports it has requested has been a labour-intensive challenge. I hope the Commission will find that the Agency has succeeded in giving it sufficiently meaningful input so that you, as the Advisory Commission, can provide the advice and assistance which you are mandated to provide to me.

a. Organizational Development and Reform

I am pleased to report that the reform process is well and truly underway. My Deputy, Filippo Grandi, will brief you more extensively on how the process has developed since we last met. I am heartened by the progress I have seen during some of the week-long workshops which have been organised in the fields to engage all staff in UNRWA's evolving approach to management and the cascading of accountability down the hierarchical ladder. The response of our staff, in particular the area staff that form the backbone of the Agency, has been enthusiastic and constructive. This augurs well for the transformation of work processes and management culture which the Organizational Development Plan seeks to achieve. The harnessing of some of the "levers of change" is already well advanced and the strengthening of some indispensable field functions will soon bear fruit. Discussions are beginning on optimizing the staffing structure so that the Agency's human resources can serve refugees more efficiently and effectively.

Funding for the OD process has been quite satisfactory until now. I must, however, remind colleagues that the OD is a three-year process and that resources will continue to be required for 2008 and 2009. In an attempt to compress the financial requirements to the extent possible, as you will recall, UNRWA is seeking 20 additional posts from the United Nations Regular Budget. In consultation with the UN Secretariat, we will be focussing on ten posts for the upcoming biennium, with the remaining ten to be incorporated in the 2010 to 2011 biennium budget. Your support until now has been invaluable, and I hope that the countries you represent will continue to make their voices heard in New York, when the UN budget is debated and adopted later this year.

b. [Programme strategy, biennium budget, financial situation and resource mobilization strategy]

Let me speak briefly about the cluster of issues that include the programme strategy, the biennium budget, the financial situation and our resource mobilization strategy. The clustering of these related subjects is the reason for a particularly large (and long) agenda item, but I hope you agree that it is necessary to bring together the entire gamut of processes which will guide our work in the coming biennium. As stressed often in the run-up to this discussion, our overall strategy, and the programme management cycle which will derive from it, is currently being developed. They will, therefore, fully inform the 2010-11 budget. Anxious to move ahead as far as possible in the meanwhile, we have worked on an interim programme strategy which incorporates our state of thinking thus far. We also developed further the budget assumptions presented to you early this year, and followed up with the draft biennium budget summary now before you. It will be of great use for us to hear your comments on these documents, as this will inform our own preparations for the substantive budgetary discussions at the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), and at the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly in the autumn.

Drafting a budget for UNRWA remains laden with dilemmas. As much as we would like to heed the call of some of our stakeholders to base our budget on the full implementation of our mandate - that is, to fully address the needs of refugees - the sad reality of recent years has been that such an approach has not yet ensured that our budget is fully funded. As a result, we are forced to attempt to "blend" the quantitative calculation which would emanate from a needs-based approach with a realistic funding outlook. Ramadan Al Omari, our Comptroller, will present the current financial situation of the Agency, and his data should not come as a surprise: it includes a projected funding gap of over 100 million US dollars for 2007 for the General Fund and a similar shortfall currently expected for our Emergency Appeal. [Simply put, UNRWA is currently 200 million dollars in the red.]

In a similar vein, it would be preferable for the Resource Mobilization Strategy to be driven by the objective of full funding of all Agency programmes. However, we are forced to prioritise our scarce resources towards direct delivery of essential services rather than to indirect investment in fund-raising for potential additional resources. I hope you will see the strategy in this light and support the thrust and dynamics it aims to deliver, within the strict overall financial constraints we face.

c. The 2006 Annual Report to the General Assembly

You have before you a draft of my Annual Report to the General Assembly. It covers the 2006 calendar year and will be discussed at the session of the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (SPDC), which will take place in November in New York. The report is made available to you to form the basis on which to draft the contents of the "Letter of the Chairperson of the Advisory Commission to the Commissioner-General". The annual report describes the Agency's activities during the year. You will notice that we have striven to reflect both programme objectives and delivery in the report, alongside relevant performance indicators.

The report covers the period during which the seeds were sown for the current crises in the occupied Palestinian territory. It is ironic to note that the present circumstances are so dire that the intifada years appear as relatively prosperous ones. In 2006, our hopes for major economic support and development following "Gaza disengagement" were bluntly and unceremoniously frustrated. The overall security situation and the emergence of factional fighting contributed to a downward spiral which continues to this day. The rapidly increasing humanitarian needs led to a dramatic review of the UN consolidated Appeal (CAP), and the response of our traditional donors was swift and generous. In Lebanon, war raged during the summer and UNRWA was again propelled into an emergency relief mode. 2006 also marks the beginning of implementation of our reform process

Not so long ago, the discussion of the Chairperson's letter formed the sole agenda item of the Advisory Commission, which met, briefly, once a year. We have come a long way since then! The success of this revitalised intergovernmental advisory organ is due to the hard work done by all, in particular by you, Mr. Chairman, and by your Vice-Chair, Mr. Ali Mustafa. So, in closing, I should like to thank very warmly the Netherlands and Syria for guiding this process. I would like to particularly commend Mr. Frans Makken, whose able leadership has so smoothly brought us through the recent transitional period of the "new" Advisory Commission. And I thank Switzerland, the United States, Canada and the European Commission, for steering the sub-committees set up to prepare the way for the Advisory Commission itself. I am confident Syria and Norway, who take on the bureau functions on 1 July, will continue this excellent trend and lead the Commission to continue to provide useful advice and assistance to me, and to UNRWA, thereby contributing to a better fulfilment of our duty to serve the Palestine refugees.

I trust we shall have a productive meeting

Thank you.