|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary
Contributions to UNRWA
1st Meeting (PM)
Eighteen Donors Pledge Contributions to United Nations Relief Agency for Palestine
Refugees, With Agency Facing Severe, Chronic Financial Constraints
With Palestinian refugees gaining none of the political and human rights advances seen elsewhere in the Middle East, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) facing severe financial constraints, 18donors pledged contributions to the Agency’s 2012 budgetthis afternoon, with several Governments expressing their intention to announce their pledges at a later date.
Donors announced their voluntary contributions today at the meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee, which was established by the General Assembly as the primary forum in which donors could announce financial support for the Agency. UNRWA assists almost 5 million Palestinian refugees across its five fields of operation in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
Opening the meeting, Csaba Körösi (Hungary), Vice-President of the Assembly, said that the lack of a political solution to the protracted conflict almost exactly 62 years after the establishment of UNRWA meant the Agency’s role was today “more vital than ever”.
“The winds of change have swept over the Arab region this year”, he said, and although schools and health centres remained open and operational and UNRWA staff continued to work on the ground, the situation in the region was “fragile and volatile” and posed a direct challenge to the Agency’s operations. It was important that the Agency’s crucial role was recognized, he said, as failure to meet its mandate could potentially cause “further dissatisfaction, anger and instability” in the region.
The Agency faced severe financial constraints, in part because of the financial environment facing the international community, he said. He noted the international community’s generosity under the circumstances and pointed out that the Agency had tried to limit spending and was reaching-out to non-traditional sources and expanding its donor base, including by entering into partnerships. He recalled the international community’s responsibility for the Palestinian refugees until a just solution was reached and urged Member States to consider increasing contributions, stressing the “tremendous importance” of the Agency’s work in providing services to the refugees. While reform efforts would continue, he said the Agency had improved its efficiency and effectiveness, and it made sure contributions were utilized in the best interests of the population it served.
The Deputy Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Margot Ellis, said 2011 had seen “momentous change” in the Middle East, with men and women standing up to call for greater human rights and freedoms, improved governance and better living conditions across the region. While changes continued in the region, “the situation on the ground for Palestinians and Palestine refugees remains the same”.
The need for UNRWA remained strong in the absence of a political solution, she said, adding that the refugees looked to the Agency for vital services, and the Agency looked to the General Assembly to provide the means to continue fulfilling its mandate. She said Israeli occupation negatively impacted Palestinians’ human rights and that, despite improved economic conditions, refugees remained vulnerable. Employment gains in the West Bank exclusively benefited non-refugees, while unemployment among refugees had increased. Home demolitions continued, with the West Bank Bedouin community seeing increased demolitions of houses, water wells, and other essential community assets. That had caused real fears that their indigenous way of life was at risk, which would, she said, “be a travesty of human rights”.
She welcomed measures by Israel to ease access of goods into Gaza, which had allowed reconstruction of schools and refugee homes damaged in 2008 and 2009. The Agency still faced delays, though, and the needs of refugees in Gaza were stark, she said. Approximately 7,000 students started school annually, abject poverty was rising, and youth unemployment reached 66 per cent, meaning refugees needed UNRWA “to retain hope and opportunities, and to regain their dignity”. The emergency appeal was a key mechanism for addressing the pressing, immediate needs of refugees, she said, regretting the reduced quality and quantity of assistance, since the appeal had been only 49 per cent funded in 2011, and looking to next year, when $301 million would be needed.
Refugee camps in Lebanon lacked basic infrastructure and the Agency faced severe challenges meeting refugees’ most basic needs. Labour laws passed in Lebanon which allowed greater access to professions for Palestinians needed implementation, she said, and funding was required for reconstruction of the Nahr al Bared camp in Northern Lebanon, with $182 million needed to complete reconstruction.
The Agency had continued working in Syria, she said, though if conflict there spread to affect the Palestine refugees more directly, it would be increasingly difficult for the Agency to respond appropriately without additional resources. She added that Jordan remained stable, with Government reforms allowing salary increases for UNRWA staff, and that State remaining an optimal field in which to introduce reforms to improve the services offered to refugees.
The Agency’s biggest obstacle was its financial situation and it had operated with a deficit throughout 2011, she said. With its working capital eroded for a third year in a row, it was able only to meet the very basic needs of the refugees. The 2012 budget was $641 million, with projected income of $548 million, and she foresaw starting the year with a deficit of $93.5 million. This required the Agency to spend considerable effort fund-raising, instead of raising the standard of care. She said the budget included costs for food aid and development of the enterprise resource planning system, which would normally be project-funded but which had had been “guaranteed” through the General Fund because of their critical nature.
In January, the Agency would adopt International Public Sector Accounting Standards on schedule, and would conclude its Activity Based Costing exercise in February, she said. It had introduced a comprehensive Education Reform Strategy aiming for high-quality education through global best practice interventions in teacher training, inclusive education, research and vocational training and had developed the Family Health Team approach to respond to non-communicable diseases and “e-health” initiatives, to provide a better, more holistic medical care experience. The Agency also sought to address poverty issues among refugees, with Relief and Social Services reform seeking more effective assistance to the most vulnerable through targeting, and a switch from food aid to cash assistance.
The Agency sought to address its chronic funding shortages through a Resource Mobilization Strategy, she said, and aimed to improve its ability to raise resources from present donors, emerging markets, and through public-private partnerships. She said UNRWA looked for sustainable reform, noting that the Advisory Commission had strongly supported its reform strategies and encouraged the process’s continuation. She added that drives for continued improvements remained essential with the “stagnant” political situation, and despite eagerly awaiting positive developments, she foresaw “the need for UNRWA to continue to be strong”.
Amount Pledged in Dollars
In Other Currencies
United Arab Emirates
23.5 million SwF
70 million DKr
Future pledges were promised by representatives of Australia, Malaysia, Norway, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Syrian Arab Republic and the United States.
After the pledges were made, Feda Abdelhady-Nasser of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine commended the “extraordinary efforts” to provide assistance to Palestinian refugees in what were “certainly not ordinary times”. She also commended the UNRWA staff for the services and care they provided. Assistance had helped promote refugees’ well-being and development, as well as to alleviate the many hardships they endured. She said the UNRWA role vis-à-vis Palestinian refugees was vital, making a qualitative difference to their lives and making a vital contribution to stability on the ground. She reaffirmed that the Agency’s effective functioning was essential until achievement of a just, comprehensive and lasting peace settlement of the Palestine question in all its aspects.
The strong support from Member States for UNRWA and its mandate reflected the seriousness with which the international community upheld its legal and moral responsibilities on the question of Palestine and its refugees, she said, saying those declarations were all the more meaningful in light of the financial shortfalls faced by the Agency, the growing needs of the refugee population and the global economic financial crisis.
Thanking donors and encouraging increased funding to allow the Agency to maintain services for needy refugees and emergency assistance, she said that the dire situation persisting in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, meant emergency assistance remained vital. She hoped that some of the contributions would be transformed into regular contributions, stressing the importance of predictable funding for the Agency. She commended efforts by the Agency to mobilize funding from non-traditional donors, especially partnerships with foundations and the private sector, and reiterated the need to ensure UNRWA received greater support from the United Nations regular budget, commensurate with its vast responsibilities.
* *** *For information media • not an official record