|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary
Contributions to UNRWA
1st Meeting (AM)
SIXTEEN DONORS PLEDGE CONTRIBUTIONS TO 2009 BUDGET OF UNITED NATIONS AGENCY
FOR PALESTINE REFUGEES, WITH SEVERAL STATES PROMISING LATER PLEDGES
As World Commemorates Sixtieth Anniversary of Human Rights Declaration,
Palestinians Have No Reason to Celebrate, Says General Assembly President
Against the backdrop of great financial hardship for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), 16 donors pledged contributions to the Agency’s 2009 budget this morning, with several Governments expressing their intention to announce their pledges at a later date.
Voluntary contributions were announced at today’s meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee, which was established by the General Assembly as the primary forum for the announcement by donors of their financial support for the Agency. The UNRWA is the only United Nations programme that is a direct subsidiary of the Assembly, providing services for some 4.6 million Palestinian refugees who fled their homes in 1948.
Opening the meeting, the President of the Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, said that, as the international community celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights today, one could not escape the fact that Palestinians had no reason to celebrate. Their rights had entered “a state of perpetual suspension”.
Next year would mark the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of UNRWA, and the Assembly, by its resolution 63/91, had decided to hold a high-level meeting on 1 October 2009 to mark that occasion, he continued. The UNRWA had been mandated “to prevent conditions of starvation and distress” among Palestine refugees and “to further conditions of peace and stability” in the areas where it operated. It represented a “terrible political failure of the United Nations that this mandate must be renewed once again”. It was tragic that any people should have remained refugees and in need of international humanitarian assistance some 59 years after the international community had undertaken to find a just and durable solution to their situation.
At present, the Agency faced heavy challenges on all sides, he said. Demands for its increasingly complex services grew steadily, and it was a head responder to a long-term emergency in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Despite the strain it shouldered, UNRWA remained a stable service provider for all registered Palestinian refugees. “We must demonstrate our solidarity with the Palestinian refugees who are suffering indignities and deprivations that are unacceptable to minimum human rights”, he said.
Stressing UNRWA’s commitment to substantive reform of its management and programme delivery, he added that the Agency’s “organizational development” reforms had been under implementation since 2006 and were aimed at strengthening the Agency’s capacity to plan, implement and evaluate its activities, enhancing accountability and effectiveness, and optimizing the use of donor resources. The reforms enjoyed broad support among UNRWA’s stakeholders, and contributed to the results-based culture that the United Nations was seeking to promote.
The Deputy Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Filippo Grandi, said that, over the years, UNRWA had proven its value as a relatively low-cost and effective agent of human development for millions of refugees, and its achievements in the areas of health, education and social services had been impressive. However, the Agency depended almost entirely on voluntary contributions to fund its services, and was financially vulnerable “to adverse winds”.
In 2009, the Agency could face “a perfect storm”, he said. Its cost base had been pushed up sharply this year, as staff salaries had to keep pace with salaries of public servants in host countries, which had increased substantially to reflect fast-rising local costs of living. At the same time, exchange rate trends had lately been working to the Agency’s disadvantage. Those factors had come together “at precisely the time when, after years of debilitating cuts and deterioration in the quality of our services, the refugees were anticipating that they may finally reap the practical benefits of our ambitious, ongoing reform programme”, he said.
From a peak of just over $60 million in early 2006, as of the end of this month, UNRWA’s cash reserves would be down to $1 million -- enough for less than one day’s average expenditure, he said. On present projections, the Agency was looking at a deficit next year in excess of $150 million in the core budget, when anticipated income was set against its needs-based budget figure. Unless the Agency got significant new or increased pledges in the next six months, there would be serious consequences for the refugees. The Agency’s reform achievements would also be threatened.
A substantial funding shortfall in the Agency’s regular budget would threaten innovative programmes, such as its Schools of Excellence programme in Gaza and its Youth and Business Initiative in Syria, he said. Shortfalls had also negatively affected emergency appeals for the Occupied Palestinian Territory and northern Lebanon. In the occupied territories, pledges amounting to 64 per cent of the $237 million requested had been received so far. A tightening blockade had reduced most of Gaza’s 1.5 million people to a state of abject dependence on international assistance and, in the West Bank, further movement restrictions had increased the vulnerability of the population. Of equal concern was the poor response to the appeal launched in Vienna last June for the reconstruction of the destroyed Nahr el-Bared camp.
11 million SwF
305 million SEK
150 million NK
An observer from the Holy See announced a pledge of $20,000 for the education of children of Palestinian refugees, also promising continuation of direct assistance.
Future pledges were promised by the United States, Japan, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Spain and France, who also made a statement on behalf of the European Union.
The Observer for Palestine expressed profound gratitude “for generous support and principled commitment” of donors and said that he hoped that, in the sixtieth year since the onset of the tragedy of his people, the international community would redouble its efforts to promote, without further delay, the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement of the question of Palestine in all its aspects, including a just resolution for the plight of the Palestine refugees.
Mr. Grandi also thanked the delegates, saying that he was grateful not only for their financial, but also moral and political, support. Clearly, 2009 would be a very difficult year for the refugees and the Agency mandated to support them. UNRWA’s current financial fragility presented great risks, and he trusted that the donors would rise to the occasion by increasing their contributions and making new ones.
* *** *For information media • not an official record