11 November 2010
General Assembly
GA/SPD/471

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

23rd Meeting (PM)


Fourth Committee Hears Palestinian Relief Agency’s Funding Crisis on ‘Knife Edge’;


Nearing Conclusion of Work, Approves Texts on Atomic Radiation, 2011 Work Plan


UNRWA’s Administrative Support Chief Says Worsening Structural Deficit Obliges

Agency to Turn to General Assembly for Urgent Assistance, Cites Historic Precedent


With just a bit of time remaining on its calendar, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today concluded its consideration for the session of the effects of atomic radiation with the consensus approval of a draft resolution commending the United Nations Scientific Committee for the valuable contribution it had been making since its inception to widen knowledge and understanding of the levels, effects and risks of ionizing radiation.


That text, to be forwarded to the General Assembly for its consideration, emphasized the vital need for sufficient, assured and predictable funding and efficient management of the Scientific Committee.  A further provision would have the General Assembly urge the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to continue to strengthen the Committee’s funding, and encourage Member States to consider making voluntary contributions to the general trust fund.


The Fourth Committee also approved a draft decision, without a vote, on its proposed programme of work and timetable for the sixty-sixth General Assembly session, before returning to its consideration of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), specifically, the Agency’s financial situation.


In that connection, the Committee was briefed by the Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (document A/65/551), which had just wrapped up a series of meetings, convened on an “extraordinary basis”, in order to provide the Committee with recommendations on UNRWA’s financial situation. 


[The Group was established in June 1970, owing to what the General Assembly deemed the Agency’s “acute financial situation” and its “serious implications” for its future work.  It consists of the representatives of France, Ghana, Japan, Lebanon, Norway, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States.]


Laying out some of the Group’s conclusions, Johan L. Lovald of Norway said the Group felt the extent of the funding crisis was deeply worrying and that the current budget was inadequate to meet the growing needs of the refugee population.  The anticipated funding gap was not only undermining UNRWA’s services, but it was resulting in increased hardships for UNRWA’s staff.


The Group, he said, stressed the importance for the Agency to sustain its work and intensify its fundraising efforts, and urged donors to come forward to fund the Agency’s important new initiatives.  It also highlighted the importance of injecting $130 million to create a safety cushion for the Agency’s finances.  Its assessment also entailed reviewing the adequacy, in levels and scope, of funds received by the Agency from the United Nations regular budget, so that it could be enabled to comply fully with its General Assembly-mandated initiatives. 


Given the Agency’s dire financial situation, he said, the Working Group was also concerned over the continued severe restrictions that hampered the reconstruction of Gaza.  The Group reiterated the belief that UNRWA played a vital role in providing services to the Palestine refugees, and that it was the responsibility of the international community to assist it in meeting that strategic goal, in accordance with the changing needs of the refugee community.


Despite extraordinary contributions by the three largest donors, said UNRWA’s Director of Administrative Support, Laura Londen, on behalf of the Commissioner-General, the Agency was still on a “knife edge”, and management, for its part, had exercised maximum austerity and fiscal prudence.  Throughout the Agency’s history, funds that were made available to UNRWA had not kept pace with the growing numbers of refugees.  At times, the situation had worsened, obliging the Agency to turn to Members of the General Assembly for urgent assistance. 


“This is such an occasion,” she stressed.  Some Member States had informally expressed concerns that if they were to agree to widen the scope of funding from the regular budget, that would set up a “negative precedent”, but faced with the structural deficit expected to worsen in coming years, the Agency turned to the General Assembly as a last resort.  In fact, the General Assembly had stepped in 1974 to cover international staff salaries out of the regular budget. 


The representative of Canada introduced the draft resolution on the effects of atomic radiation.


Speaking before action on the drafts were the representatives of Sudan and Kazakhstan.


Participating in the dialogue with UNRWA’s Director of Administrative Support was the representative of Lebanon.


The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine also participated in the discussion.


The Fourth Committee will meet again on Monday, 15 November at 10 a.m. to conclude its work for the sixty-fifth session.


Background


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to take action on a draft resolution on the effects of atomic radiation, and a draft decision on its programme of work for the sixty-sixth session.  The Committee was alsoexpected to hear the introduction of the report of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) (document A/65/551), as well as an address by the Director for Administrative Support of UNRWA.

On the effects of atomic radiation, the Committee had before it draft resolution A/C.4/65/L.6, by which the General Assembly, concerned about the potentially harmful effects on present and future generations resulting from the levels of radiation to which mankind and the environment were exposed, would commend the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation for the valuable contribution it had been making since its inception to widen knowledge and understanding of the levels, effects and risks of ionizing radiation, and for fulfilling its original mandate with scientific authority and independence of judgement.


In that connection, the Assembly would emphasize the vital need for sufficient, assured and predictable funding, and efficient management of the Scientific Committee.  It would urge the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to continue to strengthen the Committee’s funding, and encourage Member States to consider making voluntary contributions to the general trust fund.


Also by that text, the Assembly would welcome the Scientific Committee’s new strategy to improve data collection, and encourage Member States, the United Nations system and non-governmental organizations, to provide further relevant data about doses, effects and risks from various sources of radiation.  That would help in the preparation of future reports of the Scientific Committee to the General Assembly, and encourage the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other relevant organizations to establish and coordinate with the Secretariat.  In addition, it would request UNEP to continue providing support for the effective conduct of the Committee’s work and for the dissemination of its findings.


A further provision would have the Assembly invite Belarus, Finland, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea, Spain and Ukraine to continue to designate one scientist to attend that Committee’s fifty-eighth session as an observer.  It would request the Secretary-General to prepare a report for the next Assembly session on the objective criteria and indicators to be used to determine Committee membership.  It would also ask him to consider the financial implications for increased membership, taking into account documents A/64/6 (Sect. 14) and A/64/6/Add.1. 


The Assembly would further request the Secretary-General to report to it, within existing resources, at its sixty-sixth session, regarding the effects of atomic radiation in the Marshall Islands, taking into account analysis by recognized experts, including the Scientific Committee, and previously published studies on the topic.


Also before delegations today was a draft decision A/C.4/65/L.7 submitted by the Bureau on the proposed programme of work and timetable of the Fourth Committee for the sixty-sixth session of the General Assembly.


In its report on UNRWA’s financing (document A/65/551), the Working Group notes, with serious concern, the exceptionally large funding gap anticipated for the Agency’s regular budget in 2010 and reiterates that it is the responsibility of the international community to ensure that UNRWA services are maintained at an acceptable level, in quantitative and qualitative terms, and to ensure that funding keeps pace with the changing needs of the refugee population.


The Working Group also notes, with serious concern, the structural nature of UNRWA’s financial crisis whereby UNRWA’s General Fund is under-funded year after year, leading the Agency to finance its annual deficit partly by spending its working capital, now virtually depleted.  It welcomes further discussion on how to address this issue, notably within the context of the anticipated discussions at the sixty-fifth session of the General Assembly on the forthcoming report of the Secretary-General on the strengthening of the management capacity of UNRWA.


Also in the report, the Working Group strongly urges all Governments that have not yet contributed to UNRWA to do so on a regular basis, and those Governments that have so far made only relatively small contributions to raise the level of their support.   It urges Governments that in the past had made generous contributions to UNRWA to continue to do so in a timely manner and to strive to increase them.  It also urges Governments to fully fund UNRWA’s budget for the biennium 2010-2011, to ensure that the real value of contributions to the Agency was maintained, and to ensure that donor support for emergency-related and special programmes does not in any way decrease contributions to or divert them from its regular programme.  Governments are further urged, where possible, to provide multi-year funding to allow the Agency to better plan its activities.


Introduction of Draft


The draft resolution on the effects of atomic radiation (document A/C.4/65/L.6) was introduced by the representative of Canada, who said that the United Nations Scientific Committee’s work demonstrated the sources and affects of atomic radiation.  It provided a vital tool for non-governmental organizations, IAEA, Governments and users of nuclear energy to establish radiation protection standards.  This year’s resolution talked about developments since the sixty-fourth General Assembly and looked forward to the sixty-sixth session.  The resolution established a new P-4 post and encouraged IAEA, WHO and other relevant organizations to coordinate with the Secretariat to exchange data on the effects of exposure to radiation on the population, including on medical patients.  The representative said the draft text had cross-regional support.


Action


The Committee then proceeded to take a decision on the draft resolution on the effects of atomic radiation (document A/C.4/65/L.6).


Speaking before the vote, the representative of Sudan said his delegation wanted to register its discontent regarding the deletion of operative paragraph 13 of the resolution referring to the present membership of the Scientific Committee.  Despite that, he supported the resolution, and said that the present membership of the Scientific Committee should be maintained, and that the Committee should continue to perform its cherished mandate.  He wished to have that reflected in the records.


Also speaking before the vote, the representative of Kazakhstan said that his delegation wanted to be included as a co-sponsor of the resolution.


The Committee then approved that draft resolution without a vote.


Turning to the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly, the Committee then took action on a draft decision on the proposed programme of work and timetable of the Committee (document A/C.4/65/L.7), approving it without a vote.


Introduction of Working Group Report


Introducing the Report of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (document A/65/551), JOHAN L. LOVALD of Norway, the Group’s Rapporteur, said the Working Group was convened on an extraordinary basis and had provided an opportunity for the members to hear from the new Commissioner-General about the Agency’s grave financial situation.  He said the Working Group had met on four occasions in September and October to provide recommendations to the Committee.  The extent of the funding crisis was deeply worrying, he said.  While donors were considered generous, given the current financial environment, the current budget was inadequate to meet the growing needs of the refugee population.  The anticipated funding gap was not only undermining UNRWA’s services, but it was resulting in increased hardships for UNRWA’s staff.


The Working Group, he continued, stressed the importance for the Agency to sustain its work and intensify its fundraising efforts, and urged donors to come forward to fund the Agency’s important new initiatives.  The report also highlighted the importance of injecting $130 million to create a safety cushion for the Agency’s finances.  The report’s assessment also entailed reviewing the adequacy, in levels and scope, of funds received by the Agency from the United Nations regular budget, so that it could be enabled to comply fully with its General Assembly-mandated initiatives.  Given the Agency’s dire financial situation, concern was also expressed over the continued severe restrictions that hampered the reconstruction of Gaza.  The Working Group reiterated the belief that UNRWA played a vital role in providing services to the Palestine refugees, and that it was the responsibility of the international community to assist it in meeting that strategic goal, in accordance with the changing needs of the refugee community.


Statement by UNRWA Representative


LAURA LONDEN, UNRWA’s Director of Administrative Support, speaking on behalf of the Commissioner-General, Filippo Grandi, drew attention to the Agency’s grave financial situation, as well as possible measures that could be taken to improve its outlook and capacity to utilize voluntary funds more effectively.  She apologized that the anticipated report of the Secretary-General was not ready, but said that, despite the delay, UNRWA welcomed the opportunity to have an interactive debate on the longer-term trends affecting the Agency.


The number of Palestine refugees dependent on UNRWA services in the areas of education, health, relief and social welfare and camp infrastructure had been growing steadily, she said.  Almost 5 million persons were now registered with the Agency, more than six times the original number in 1950.  The majority relied on UNRWA for public sector-style services, and regrettably, despite a deep thirst for self-improvement, poverty and unemployment among the refugees were deep-rooted.  Throughout the Agency’s history, funds made available to UNRWA had not kept pace with the growing numbers of refugees.  At times, the situation had worsened, obliging the Agency to turn to Members of the General Assembly for urgent assistance.  This was just such an occasion.


Over the years, she said, UNRWA’s major donors had responded magnificently to changing needs and circumstances, especially to the bouts of violence that had scarred the region.  Apart from the need to deliver more complex programmes for the refugees, challenges arose from several sources:  a more challenging operational environment; more rigorous monitoring for donors; and increased demands from the General Assembly.  Three months ago, the Agency was seriously concerned it would not be able to sustain its operations.  Thanks to extraordinary contributions by the three largest donors, that dire prospect might have been averted.  But the Agency was still on a “knife edge”.  Management, for its part, had exercised maximum austerity and fiscal prudence.


She said she was aware of concerns informally expressed by some Member States that if they were to agree to widen the scope of funding from the regular budget it would set up a negative precedent.  That was not the case, but faced with the structural deficit expected to worsen in coming years, the Agency turned to the General Assembly as a last resort.  She drew a historical parallel, saying that, in the early 1970s, the needs of the Palestinian refugees looking to UNRWA were rapidly outstripping donor income and the Agency had then faced the stark reality that it could not continue.  In 1974, the General Assembly stepped in and covered international staff salaries out of the regular budget.  Today, the situation was at a similar juncture, but the difference this time was that UNRWA’s management was simultaneously attempting to strengthen its overall capacity and carry out reforms.


Meanwhile, when measured as a proportion of overall financial needs, that financial cushion authorized by the General Assembly 36 years ago was shrinking in its real value, she said.  As an agency that performed life-saving human development work in the Middle East, day-in and day-out, when management-related requirements competed for dwindling financial resources with essential programme and emergency demands, it should be evident that the latter must prevail.  It was a worrying fact that UNRWA no longer had a working capital reserve.  “We do not seek a replenishment from the United Nations regular budget.  That would be unreasonable in the current era of budget austerity,” she said, but added that the situation was an “uncomfortable fact of life”.  She welcomed advice on how to restore the state of the Agency’s financial health.


Continuing, she said that a logical next step could be for the General Assembly to reconsider the adequacy of financial arrangements it made for UNRWA back in 1974, expanding the scope of funding provided by the United Nations regular budget from its present coverage of most international staff salaries to also pay for some Headquarters functions, as well as essential new management-related expenditures.  In short, the status quo was unsustainable.  Member States had always shown an impressive degree of solidarity.  “You have never let us down in the past, and I am confident that will you not do so now in our moment of need,” she said.


Dialogue


The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations expressed appreciation for the presentation, as it was an important complement to the report submitted earlier to the Committee.  She also thanked Norway in its capacity as Rapporteur, and expressed appreciation to the members of the Working Group to seek to secure the financial security of the Agency, and reiterated gratitude to the entire donor community for ensuring the efficacy and quality of UNRWA’s assistance to the Palestine refugees.


The delegate said that the difficulties faced by the Agency were structural in nature, and that that must be taken into consideration.  The attention and energy of the Commissioner-General continued to be diverted by the financial crisis and the constant need to expand donor funding.  The funding crisis, along with the challenges on the ground, affected UNRWA’s services and its ability to meet the basic needs of the Palestine refugees.


She asked Ms. Londen for further clarification on UNRWA’s worsening financial situation for the past several years, and asked what was different at this point in time that made the Agency make its appeal to the General Assembly for assistance.  She also asked what priorities the Agency intended to undertake if it received the additional funding from the General Assembly.


The representative of Lebanon noted that the funding shortfall had gone from $100 million to $30 million and thanked the United States, United Kingdom and European Union for their contributions.  At the same time, the delegate called on all donors to contribute to UNRWA to overcome the shortfall.  There was some confusion regarding the general fund versus emergency appeals; delegates understood that there was a problem with general funds, but with emergency funds, the problem was political and due to the blockade, because projects such as schools could not be finished.


He said he supported the idea of using assessed contributions and felt it was only fair to apply those to administrative expenditures to improve UNRWA’s administration.  He noted that the Agency incurred expenses from the taxes levied by the occupying Power on goods brought in.  He thanked the donors once again.


In response to a question about why UNRWA was seeking the financial support through the General Assembly at this time, Ms. Londen reiterated that it was a last resort.  In the course of the last five years, outlay had outstripped income, and there was no working capital left, she explained.


Regarding the question about funding priorities, she said the General Assembly mandated different requirements, such as safety and security of staff and administration, but if funding came, it would be prioritized effectively.  She highlighted that safety of staff would remain important.


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For information media • not an official record