Funding Shortfall for United Nations Palestine Refugee Agency Risks Suspension of Essential Services before End of Year, Agency Head Tells Fourth Committee

2 November 2009
GA/SPD/441

Funding Shortfall for United Nations Palestine Refugee Agency Risks Suspension of Essential Services before End of Year, Agency Head Tells Fourth Committee

2 November 2009
General Assembly
GA/SPD/441
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

21st Meeting (PM)

Funding Shortfall for United Nations Palestine Refugee Agency Risks Suspension

of Essential Services before End of Year, Agency Head Tells Fourth Committee

Commissioner-General, Noting Retirement at End of 2009, Says Israeli-Palestinian

Conflict ‘Remains Resistant to Solution’, Despite Clarity of Settlement Components

The most immediate challenge facing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was a funding shortfall that risked a suspension of essential services, the Agency’s head said this afternoon, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) launched its annual consideration of the Agency’s work.

The anticipated shortfall, likely to persist into 2010, against the “bare minimum” operational budget was $12 million, said UNRWA’sCommissioner-General, Karen Koning AbuZayd.  Barring a contribution of that amount, the Agency would not be able to pay salaries for its staff before the end of the year, preventing it from providing even basic services to the refugee communities.

She said that the funding sought to cover the deficit would allow UNRWA merely to continue to carry out its basic services, by paying salaries and office‑running costs.  A much larger funding gap of $84 million remained in the approved regular budget, which covered the costs of much-needed activities, such as camp improvements, housing repairs, school-furniture replacement, and general maintenance.  It was discouraging that three years into a strategic, results-based reform process to strengthen UNRWA’s effectiveness, the Agency found itself again appealing for resources to avoid a crippling of its operations. 

UNRWA’s dire financial situation stood in sharp contrast to the reaffirmation of support for the Agency and the Palestine refugees at the high‑level event at Headquarters on 24 September to mark the Agency’s sixtieth anniversary.  That event had underscored the Agency’s continuing relevance and validity in the conflict-prone region, and she hoped it would galvanize increased donor support that the Agency so desperately needed to enhance its over-stretched structures and enable it to better serve the refugees.  Yet, while that high-level event was a basis for optimism, the explosion of violence in Gaza that ushered in the past year had cast a shadow over the region, the Palestine refugees and UNRWA.

The military offensive launched by Israel in Gaza on 27 December 2008 had been unprecedented in the recent history of the conflict, she said.  By the time the ceasefire had been declared on 18 January 2009, 1,387 Palestinians had lost their lives, among them, 313 children, according to non-governmental sources.  Thirteen Israelis had also been killed during that period.  More than 5,000 homes had been destroyed or damaged, leaving approximately 50,000 people homeless.  Civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, United Nations schools and clinics, factories, farms, and water and electrical systems had also sustained damage.

UNRWA’s Quick Response Plan for Gaza, launched in January, had received a record amount for an UNRWA appeal in the Occupied Territory, with pledges amounting to almost $250 million of the $371 million requested.  Support for that plan had been truly global, attracting a number of new donors, both Governmental and non-governmental.  The solidarity shown by civil society in the Middle East had been particularly gratifying.  The Agency’s largest traditional donors, the United States and the European Commission, had also been exceptionally generous, contributing a combined total of more than $110 million.

However, she said that the continuing blockade of Gaza’s border was of grave concern to UNRWA and to the United Nations family.  That blockade limited humanitarian access, restricted the import of virtually all construction materials needed to re-build a shattered infrastructure, and had effectively shut down the Gazan private sector.  The number of refugees in Gaza classified as “abject poor” had tripled in the last year, to 300,000.

The West Bank remained a “shattered economic space” due to the separation barrier, its associated obstacles and administrative restrictions, which prevented the flourishing of a sustainable Palestinian economy, she said.  The area remained splintered to a point where its integrity as a viable socio-economic and political unit was deeply compromised.  The “intricate web” of Israeli measures “whittled away” the living space and resources available to Palestinians.

Noting her upcoming retirement from her post at the end of 2009, she said that in tragic contrast to the resolution of a number of protracted refugee situations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained resistant to solution, despite the clarity of its components:  an end to occupation, Palestinian self‑determination, and security guarantees for both Palestinians and Israelis.

On a more positive note, she said that UNRWA remained acutely aware of its status as a temporary Agency and would one day, when a negotiated settlement was reached, hand over the tasks it currently undertook to a professional cadre of tens of thousands of well-trained Palestinians who were committed to the values of the United Nations. 

In an interactive dialogue following Ms. AbuZayd’s remarks, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, praised UNRWA’s work, saying that were it not for the Agency, the Palestinian people would not be able to survive the “onslaught and aggression” committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip.  Highlighting the Agency’s financial emergencies, he appealed to “the many people around the globe” who were capable of helping as part of a collective humanitarian responsibility.

As the first speaker in the ensuing general debate, the observer for Palestine, Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, stressed that the occasion of UNRWA’s sixtieth anniversary was cause for solemn reflection about the long‑standing plight and continuing hardship of the Palestine refugees as a result of the denial of their rights, and thus the reason for the establishment and continued existence of the Agency. 

Instead of a true commitment to peacemaking, the past year had witnessed Israel’s continued intransigence, its violations of international law, including humanitarian and human rights law, and the infliction of further harm and suffering on the Palestine refugee population, she said.  Israel’s continued imposition of its immoral, inhumane, unlawful blockade in collective punishment of the entire population -– by which it had impeded humanitarian access, prohibited the import of essential goods and all exports, and severely restricted the movement of persons –- had ensured that the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip continued to live in misery amid the ruins of their homes and communities, intensifying their deprivation and hardship and inflaming feelings of injustice.

In order for there to be peace and stability, she said, Israel’s flagrant impunity must be ended, and international law, human rights and justice must prevail.  Expressing gratitude to UNRWA and to all United Nations agencies and humanitarian organizations working together to assist the Palestine refugees, she stressed that UNRWA’s work in all fields of operation clearly remained necessary, pending the attainment of a just, lasting solution.

While speakers in the afternoon debate were unanimous in their praise of UNRWA’s work, they expressed concern regarding its financial stability.  The representative of Norway, which had held the chairmanship of UNRWA’s Advisory Commission from July 2008 to July 2009, said that the growing refugee population ‑- which was increasing by 2.4 per cent annually –- and the further deterioration of the economic situation in UNRWA’s mandate area, had caused a steady increase in demand for UNRWA’s services, but there had been little change in available funding.  Consequently, UNRWA had depleted its working capital in the last few years, and earlier this year, had posted a budget gap of $87 million for 2009.

Norway had taken several initiatives to secure funding from a broader donor base during its chairmanship of the Commission, he said, but projections for the coming years were unpromising, to say the least.  Unless a permanent solution to the funding of UNRWA was found, there would still be the same urgent problem and ad-hoc response every year from now on. 

A first and important step would be to enhance the resource base, he said, because currently, only 15 States contributed more than 90 per cent of the funding for UNRWA’s general fund.  Those States had all indicated that they had reached the limit for how much they were prepared to provide, which meant that additional regular contributions needed to come from new donors.  Another next step would be to ensure that a greater share of UNRWA’s funding came from the United Nations regular budgets, which would make the Agency’s own financial status more predictable, thus resulting in a more equitable burden-sharing. 

Along those lines, Switzerland’s representative said that in the interest of peace and stability in the region, Member States had a collective responsibility to ensure that UNRWA was able to discharge its mandate.  If the situation of its already critical accumulated structural budget deficit was not remedied, the Agency would be forced to further curtail its services to the refugee communities, and additional staff reductions and deteriorating working conditions for its 30,000 employees would become unavoidable.  She also urged the swift passage of reconstruction material, as well as basic and humanitarian assistance, into Gaza.

Also speaking during the general debate were the representatives of Sweden (on behalf of the European Union), Cuba, South Africa, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Qatar, Viet Nam, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Norway’s representative also briefed the Committee in his capacity as Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA.

The representatives of Syria, Egypt and Lebanon also participated in the interactive dialogue with Ms. AbuZayd.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 3 November, to continue its general debate on the work of UNRWA.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met today to begin its consideration of the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

On the subject of UNRWA, the Committee had before it the report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (document A/64/13), covering the period from 1 January to 31 December 2008.  UNRWA was established in 1949 to contribute to the human development of Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, until a just solution is found to the refugee issue.  The Agency fulfils this purpose by providing a variety of essential services within the framework of international standards.  These services include education, health, relief and social services, and microfinance and microenterprise.

According to the report, in 2008 the Occupied Palestinian Territory continued to experience the most dramatic developments in the Agency’s area of operations.  In the Gaza Strip, the year began and ended with major conflicts.  The blockade imposed by Israel in June 2007 after the Hamas takeover and the dissolution of the Palestinian National Unity Government by President Mahmoud Abbas seriously affected all aspects of Palestinian life, even though it allowed for the exceptional importation of some essential humanitarian supplies, urgent medical evacuations and passage for a small number of Palestinians with special coordination.  Unemployment continued to rise and more private enterprises closed, depleting further the capacity of Palestinian society to support itself.

In November 2008, only 579 truckloads of goods were imported into the Gaza Strip –- just 4 per cent of the December 2005 level, the report says.  Cooking gas shortages led to the implementation of a ration system, long lines at distribution points and the closing of half of the Gaza Strip’s bakeries.  Additionally, the cost of food increased by 28 per cent, from June 2007 to June 2008.

An Israeli military operation initiated in December 2007 continued into 2008, as did the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip, with an Israeli operation from 27 February to 4 March 2008 marking a peak in the conflict, states the report.  On 19 June 2008, Israel and Hamas agreed to a six-month “ceasefire”, which ended in early November.  More than 3,100 rockets and mortars fired from the Gaza Strip struck southern Israel in 2008, of which more than 2,280 were fired from January to June, some 26 from July to October, and 795 from November to December.  On 27 December, Israel commenced a major offensive on the Gaza Strip.

From the beginning of the reporting period until 26 December, 402 Palestinians, including 57 children, in the Gaza Strip were killed in the course of military operations by Israel, the report says.  During the same period, six Israeli civilians and eight soldiers were killed and 51 civilians and 58 soldiers were injured by rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip.  In the first five days of the offensive that commenced on 27 December, Israeli aircraft bombed more than 300 targets.  By 31 December, approximately 350 Gazans, including at least 38 children, had been killed.  In the same period, four Israelis were killed and about 20 Israelis were injured by Palestinian rocket fire towards  Israel.

The report finds that, in July and August, a series of car bombs and an outbreak of inter-factional fighting in the Gaza Strip left 13 Palestinians dead, including 2 children and 130 injured, dealing a blow to reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah.  In the West Bank, the regime of closures, house demolitions, settlement expansion, curfews and seizure operations continued alongside the extension of the West Bank Barrier.  As in the previous year, the Palestinian population experienced deteriorating living conditions and the denial of basic human rights.  The year 2008 saw an increase in the number of reported attacks on Palestinian civilians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank.  According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there were 290 settler-related incidents of violence in the first 10 months of 2008. Meanwhile, in February, one Israeli civilian was killed in Dimona by a Palestinian suicide bomber.  Later in the year, in two separate incidents, Palestinian bulldozer drivers in Jerusalem deliberately drove into buses and other vehicles, killing three civilians.  In March, eight rabbinical seminarians were killed in an attack on a yeshiva in Kiryat Moshe by a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem.

In Syria and Jordan, the report further states, UNRWA and the refugees were fortunate to enjoy a secure and stable environment.  The continued presence of Iraqi refugees in both countries, however, contributed to inflation and strained services provided by the Government and by UNRWA.

According to the report’s assessment of operational developments, the reporting period was marked by efforts to improve the quality of services through enhanced programme management and streamlined support services under the organizational development process.  In addition, UNRWA also responds to emergencies, wherever they occur in its areas of operation.  UNRWA launched an emergency appeal for $238 million.  Owing to rapid rises in food and fuel costs in the first half of 2008, the appeal budget was revised upwards to $262 million.  By the end of the reporting period, $176 million had been pledged by donors.

UNRWA provided emergency food assistance to 190,000 refugee families in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  A feeding programme for all 200,000 pupils in the Agency’s schools in the Gaza Strip was introduced, around $12 million was disbursed as cash grants to 30,000 poor refugee families and $6 million in the Gaza Strip to cover back-to-school costs.  In addition, UNRWA created 3 million job days for 56,000 refugees.

A lack of currency notes, owing to the blockade of the Gaza Strip, forced UNRWA to suspend, effective 19 November 2008, social welfare payments to 19,000 destitute refugee families in the Gaza Strip.  By December, UNRWA warehouses were almost empty, with the Agency unable to consolidate strategic reserves, despite the “ceasefire”.  The Agency was forced to delay emergency food aid to 135,000 families towards the end of the year.

The report says that the security of UNRWA staff remained a serious concern. In the Gaza Strip, on 27 February, the six-month-old grandson of a school attendant residing at an UNRWA installation was killed by an Israeli military strike affecting the installation.  On 1 March, an UNRWA staff member was injured at Rafah warehouse during an Israeli military strike.  On 29 December, during the Israeli offensive on Gaza that began on 27 December, an UNRWA school guard died as a result of injuries suffered while on duty during a military strike affecting the school.  In Lebanon, on 20 August, a staff member was injured by unexploded ordnance while working at Nahr el-Bared.

In organizational developments, according to the report, in 2008 UNRWA made significant progress towards achieving best practice standards in programme cycle management.  The basis for a medium-term strategy for the period 2010-2015 was developed.  Key staff in the fields and in programmes was trained in needs assessment and planning.  A needs assessment was undertaken in all fields and results-based planning commenced for the biennium 2010-2011.  The Agency’s performance indicator framework was reviewed and revised accordingly.

UNRWA continued to implement reforms of its internal oversight mechanisms to respond to an external quality assessment review conducted in late 2007.  UNRWA embarked upon an effort to purchase and implement an enterprise resource planning system.  A gap analysis conducted by external consultants revealed that the implementation of such a system is necessary.  An action plan was developed for mainstreaming security at all levels of UNRWA.  This was a step towards the adoption of an UNRWA security policy.

In addition to assessments conducted by UNRWA under the organizational development plan, the Government Accountability Office of the United States of America began a review of UNRWA’s management control systems, to ensure that financial contributions from the United States were being used appropriately.

In other matters, the Israeli authorities, citing security concerns, continued to restrict the freedom of movement of UNRWA personnel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The restrictions included closures of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; prohibiting local staff in United Nations vehicles from using the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip or the Allenby Bridge, or from traveling in Israel and the part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory annexed by Israel; and the imposition of cumbersome procedures for obtaining permits for local staff to enter Israel and East Jerusalem.  On many occasions, permits were not granted, even though the procedures were followed.  In the Agency’s view, most measures did not relate to military security, but were matters of police or administrative convenience.  The Israeli authorities, however, maintained that the restrictions were necessary to protect Israel against terrorist threats.  Movement restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on the West Bank have resulted in the loss of 2,199 staff days during the reporting period, representing a loss of approximately $86,000.

At the end of 2008, 20 staff members were in detention, 11 of whom were held by the Israeli authorities, 6 by the Palestinian authorities, 2 by the Syrian authorities and 1 by the authorities of Jordan.  Despite repeated requests made by the Agency, the Israeli authorities did not provide the Agency access to its detained staff or provide any information concerning them.  At the end of the reporting period the Palestinian authorities had also not provided the Agency access to its detained staff, despite requests.

The report also includes performance reports of its sub-programmes -- education, health, relief and social services, microfinance and microenterprise -- including performance by indicators.

The Committee also had before it the report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East Programme budget 2010-2011 (A/64/13/Add.1).  According to the report, UNRWA continued to work against a backdrop of significant trends and pressures, which affected its ability to realize its objectives and present challenges.  The factors included the absence of a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ongoing denial of refugees’ rights and recurrent armed conflict in some UNRWA locations, the policies and contributions of UNRWA’s donor countries and changes taking place within the refugee population itself.

Also according to the report, the refugee population had changed since the time of UNRWA’s genesis.  In 1950, there were approximately 750,000 Palestine refugees, but their number had increased by more than six times to 4.67 million in 2008, with an average annual growth rate of three per cent (though this was abating).  As a result of this population growth, the use of key UNRWA services had increased.  Population density and overcrowding in refugee camps was among the highest in the world.  Also, the refugee population was predominantly made up of young people, with more than 56 per cent of refugees under the age of 25 in 2000. In addition, only 30 per cent of refugees were now living within refugee camps.

The report also says that while the refugee population compared well with middle-income countries on some indicators of human development, such as infant mortality, life expectancy, adult literacy and immunization, the picture was less positive in other areas.  The prevalence of non-communicable diseases related to lifestyle was increasing, there was extreme poverty and vulnerability in all fields of operation, and unemployment levels were high.

The continuing elusiveness of a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the related absence of a solution to the plight of refugees, precluded UNRWA from assuming a radical departure from the status quo in the medium term, the report says.  Planning and budgeting was therefore predicated on the continuation of the status quo.  However, UNRWA must remain ready to respond to changes in political and economic contexts within the current overall scenario.  Political and security developments, in particular, might require changes to UNRWA’s focus in certain fields, such as in the level of resources required for emergency planning, and the cost of meeting the needs of refugees’ sliding into deeper poverty, if local economies continued to deteriorate.

Staff costs constituted the bulk of UNRWA’s budget, due to the fact that day-to-day direct delivery of services required a large number of staff -- currently over 29,500, the report finds.  Efforts to maintain parity with host authorities’ public sector salaries rendered the Agency’s financial sustainability susceptible to economic volatility.  Should host and donor Governments experience continued economic pressures, the demands on UNRWA would also intensify.  Trends within the refugee population necessitated a stronger focus on data gathering, statistical analysis, flexibility and better planning, in order to ensure that service delivery remained sensitive and responsive to the changing needs of the refugee population.  However, the Agency’s Medium Term Strategy objectives and prioritization of services provided a tool responsive to varying resource levels. Under continued financial pressure, UNRWA would be guided by the Strategy in the allocation of scarce resources.

The report also identifies the Strategy’s four human development goals for Palestine refugees, namely, to:  have a long and healthy life; acquire knowledge and skills; have a decent standard of living; and enjoy human rights to the fullest extent possible.  From these four human development goals, 15 strategic objectives had been identified for the medium term, 2010 to 2015.  Unlike previous budgets, UNWRA’s new budget includes a breakdown by goals and strategic objectives, rather than by programme, in order to link financial resources directly to the achievement of results consistent with the Agency’s strategy.

The report further states that, with the exception of international staff posts funded by the General Assembly through assessed contributions, UNRWA’s ongoing operations, projects and emergency appeals remain funded by voluntary donor contributions.  The financial results for the fiscal year 2008 clearly illustrated the funding shortfalls experienced by the Agency in its efforts to implement its mandate.  Without additional contributions, the Agency would not be in a position to fully implement its budgeted activities.  Additionally, current projections of income and expenditure for 2010 did not look promising.  If those projections proved to be correct, a funding gap would exist in 2010 of $141.2 million.  Consequently, resource mobilization was of critical importance to UNRWA.

If donor contributions remain static, the report continues, then UNRWA would be able to deliver services only at lower than current quality levels, putting additional pressure on host authorities.  With reductions in the value of contributions over the medium term, further serious compromises in the quality of services, or cuts in certain areas and in staffing, would be unavoidable.  Full delivery would require better financing than in recent times.  An increase in resources, coupled with continued gains in efficiency and effectiveness, would put the Agency in a better position to make progress towards the strategic objectives.

The report highlights the Agency’s need for additional resources, but says that UNRWA recognizes that the current economic climate may be constraining the ability to realize extra donor support.  The possibility of future resource scarcity, coupled with growing demands either as a result of population growth or deepening need, require that the Agency embrace a clear perspective on how to focus its efforts.

The Committee also had before it the report of an extraordinary meeting of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (document A/64/115), which explains the reasons for holding the meeting, on 19 May, and sets out the conclusions of the working group with respect to information provided by UNRWA to its members concerning resources made available to the Agency from the regular budget of the United Nations. 

The report recalls that the working group was established by General Assembly resolution 2656 (XXV) on 7 December 1970 to study all aspects of the financing of the Agency.  In that resolution, the Assembly requested the working group to assist the Secretary-General and UNRWA’s Commissioner-General in reaching solutions to the problems posed by the Agency’s financial crisis.  The working group consists of representatives of France, Ghana, Japan, Lebanon, Norway, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.  Turkey’s Permanent Representative chairs the group. 

In the intervals between its regular annual meetings, the working group is tasked by the Assembly with following up, as necessary, with other Member States on the implementation of its recommendations, the report explains further.  In this context, in May, the members agreed to hold an extraordinary meeting to assess the adequacy of resources provided to UNRWA from the United Nations regular budget. 

The Committee also had before it the Secretary-General’s report on Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues (document A/64/324), which notes that on 30 April 2009, the Secretary-General sent notes verbales to Israel and all other Member States, drawing their attention to the relevant provisions of General Assembly resolutions 63/91 and 63/94.  He requested information by 10 July 2009 concerning any action taken or envisaged in relation to the implementation of those resolutions.  A reply dated 5 August 2009 was received from Israel responding to the request contained in resolution 63/94.  No information was received from any other Member State regarding that text’s implementation.

Also before the Committee is the report of the Secretary-General on Persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities (document A/64/323), which refers to correspondence between the Secretary-General and the Permanent Representative of Israel regarding actions taken by the Government of Israel in implementing the relevant provisions of resolution 63/92, entitled “Persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities”. 

Statement by Commissioner-General

KAREN KONING ABUZAYD, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, said that the report paid particular attention to the difficult conditions prevailing in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Lebanon.  Meanwhile, the situation for refugees in Jordan and Syria remained stable and secure.  The report also detailed UNRWA’s operations, as well as the organizational changes that had been under way since 2006 to modernize the Agency and strengthen its management.  It also described some of the Agency’s problems, including continuing access impediments to daily work and a serious budgetary crisis.  The most immediate of the Agency’s challenges was the funding shortfall for the regular budget in 2009, a deficit which was likely to persist into 2010.  The anticipated shortfall against the “bare minimum” operational budget was $12 million.  Barring a contribution of that amount, the Agency would not be able to pay salaries for its staff before the end of the year, risking a suspension of some essential services.

She said that the funding sought to cover the deficit would allow UNRWA merely to continue to carry out its basic services, by paying salaries and office running costs.  A much larger funding gap of $84 million remained in the approved regular budget, which covered the costs of much-needed activities, such as camp improvements, housing repairs, school furniture replacement, and general maintenance.  It was discouraging that three years into a strategic, results-based reform process to strengthen UNRWA’s management and programme effectiveness, the Agency found itself again appealing for resources to avoid a crippling of its operations.  Donors had generously contributed more than $25 million for the reform process, but those benefits were at risk of being negated for lack of a modest additional income.

While underscoring the exceptional generosity of most of UNRWA’s donors in the face of the international financial crisis, she said the Agency remained concerned about the implications of the forecast decline in official development assistance in 2010 and thereafter.  UNRWA’s dire financial situation stood in sharp contrast to the reaffirmation of support for the Agency and the Palestine refuges at the high-level event at Headquarters on 24 September.  That event had been an opportunity to underscore the continuing relevance and validity of UNRWA’s role in preserving development and in making a tangible contribution to stability in a conflict-prone region.  She hoped that the strong support conveyed through the ministerial-level participation of so many Member States would galvanize increased donor support that the Agency so desperately needed to enhance its over-stretched structures and enable it to better serve the refugees.  Yet, while that high-level event was a basis for optimism, the explosion of violence in Gaza that ushered in the past year had cast a shadow over the region, the Palestine refugees and UNRWA.

She said that the military offensive launched by Israel in Gaza on 27 December 2008 had been unprecedented in the recent history of the conflict.  By the time the ceasefire had been declared on 18 January 2009, 1,387 Palestinians had lost their lives, among them, 313 children, according to non-governmental sources.  Thirteen Israelis had also been killed during that period.  More than 5,000 homes had been destroyed or damaged, leaving approximately 50,000 people homeless.  Civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, United Nations schools and clinics, factories, farms, and water and electrical systems had also sustained damage.

Following the ceasefire, UNRWA had moved rapidly to restore its regular services in an effort to bring a semblance of normalcy to a traumatized population, she said.  Once the displaced people sheltering in the Agency’s school buildings were relocated, UNRWA opened its classrooms to the 200,000 pupils.  That was six days after the ceasefire, by which time the Agency’s clinics and food distribution centres were also operational again.  UNRWA’s key role as the lead responder and its speedy transition to post-conflict reconvert and rehabilitation mode triggered strong political and financial support from the international community.  The United Nations Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) recognized UNRWA’s “vital role” in providing assistance in Gaza, and called on donors to make additional contributions to the Agency’s efforts to alleviate the humanitarian situation.

She further said that UNRWA’s Quick Response Plan for Gaza, launched in January, had received pledges amounting to almost $250 million, of the $371 million requested, a record amount for an UNRWA appeal in the Occupied Territory.  Support for that plan had been truly global, attracting a number of new donors, both Governmental and non-governmental.  The solidarity shown by civil society in the Middle East had been particularly gratifying.  The Agency’s largest traditional donors, the United States and the European Commission, had also been exceptionally generous, contributing a combined total of more than $110 million.

However, she said that the continuing blockade of Gaza’s border was of grave concern to UNRWA and to the United Nations family.  That blockade limited humanitarian access, restricted the import of virtually all construction materials needed to re-build a shattered infrastructure, and had effectively shut down the Gazan private sector.  Prior to the blockade in 2007, Gaza’s 1.5 million people had received a monthly average of 12,350 truckloads of supplies.  Now, only 20 per cent of that volume was allowed in, and was confined mainly to food and medicine. Only 70 per cent of the industrial fuel need for Gaza’s power plant, a quarter of the cooking gas, and a “trickle” of petrol and diesel fuel was made available. Additionally, the number of refugees in Gaza classified as “abject poor” had tripled in the last year, to 300,000.

She said that UNRWA maintained a positive and productive working relationship with the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), and had now been able to import items such as paper for textbooks and supplies required for the Summer Games activities, which benefited some 250,000 youth.

There had been indications earlier this year that the unprecedented severity of the conflict had triggered pressure to modify the policy of isolating Gaza, of which the blockade was the most concrete manifestation, she said.  At the March International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy for the Reconstruction of Gaza, in Sharm el-Shiekh, donors pledged $4.5 billion on the understanding that agreement on opening Gaza’s borders would be pursued with a new vigour.  However, seven months later, there had been no progress towards an agreement.  Homes, schools, farms, businesses and other civilian infrastructure destroyed in the conflict remained in ruins until closure was lifted.

She said that UNRWA continued to call for the opening of Gaza’s crossings. Guarantees on security measures for the Israelis, and guarantees of operational stability of crossing points for Palestinians would be required.  The longer the blockade of Gaza was maintained, the harsher the suffering of its people would be, the deeper their grievances, and possibly, the more radicalized.

In the West Bank, the separation barrier and its associated obstacles and administrative restrictions prevented the flourishing of a sustainable Palestinian economy, she said.  Construction continued in Israeli settlements.  J-House demolitions and confiscations, notably in East Jerusalem, were regular features of Palestinian life.  Notwithstanding recent improvements in economic and security indicators, the West Bank remained splintered -- a shattered economic space -- to a point where its integrity as a viable socio-economic and political unit was deeply compromised.  The “intricate web” of Israeli measures whittled away the living space and resources available to Palestinians.

Faced with prolonged hardship, limitation on access to certain service providers and to employment, refugees in the West Bank continued to turn to UNRWA for emergency assistance, she said.  Now in their tenth year, the Agency’s emergency activities in the West Bank remained focused on providing temporary employment, along with food and cash assistance for those in need, directly benefiting 300,000 refugees.  She hoped that the “unhealthy level of dependency” on foreign assistance would soon ease.

The level of socio-economic hardship in Lebanon among the refugees was the highest in the areas of operation, after Gaza, she said.  The most pressing concern was the reconstruction of Nahr El Bared camp, which was destroyed in the summer of 2007, and the care of 27,000 refugees who were displaced as a consequence.

Notwithstanding the continued emergency in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the major challenge of reconstruction of Nahr El Bared, she said that in 2008, the Agency had made solid progress in the delivery of UNRWA’s regular services to registered refugees in its five fields of operation -- education, health, relief and social services, microfinance, and infrastructure and camp improvement.

In order to address the Agency’s major challenges, UNRWA had begun implementing an organizational development process in 2006, which was now showing positive results, she continued.  Perhaps the most significant outcome to date had been the six-year medium-term strategy, which was the blueprint for programmes and field operations, set to begin in January 2010 and based on four human development goals for the Palestine refugees -- a long and healthy life, the acquisition of knowledge and skills, a decent standard of living, and human rights enjoyed to the fullest.

Improvements were not possible, however, without reforms of UNRWA’s managerial structures and functions. At present, 14 critical international posts were funded by bilateral donors, which should instead be included in the United Nations programme budget for 2010-2011.  Failure to do so would set back the Agency’s efforts to strengthen its management and programmes, and would negatively affect the refugees themselves.  She joined the Secretary-General in urging Member States to revisit the funding arrangements made for UNRWA 35 years ago, “in an era different from today.”

Noting her upcoming retirement from her post at the end of 2009, she said that in tragic contrast to the resolution of a number of protracted refugee situations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained resistant to solution, despite the clarity of its components:  an end to occupation, Palestinian self-determination, and security guarantees for both Palestinians and Israelis.  She urged that, in the interests of ensuring a sustainable settlement, all those directly affected be consulted and their views taken into account.  The views of refugees should not be taken for granted, as that path would only lead to disappointment, frustration and ultimately, possible rejection of the agreement.

In conclusion, she said that UNRWA remained acutely aware of its status as a temporary agency.  One day, when a negotiated settlement was reached, the Agency would hand over the tasks it currently undertook to a professional cadre of tens of thousands of Palestinians who were well-trained and committed to the values of the United Nations.  Millions more would be equipped to cope with the exigencies of daily life in the Middle East, thanks to their exposure to an UNRWA doctor, teacher, social worker, engineer, or microfinance specialist.

Interactive Dialogue

In the ensuing discussion, the Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations recalled that as a junior diplomat 20 years ago with the Fourth Committee Chairman, he was involved in debating the issue of Palestine refugees and UNRWA.  Although almost 20 years had passed, the Palestine refugee question had not been resolved.  He hoped that his colleagues who were junior diplomats today would not be sitting in the same place 10 or 20 years from now, debating the same issue and the saga of the Palestine refugees.  He also hoped that there would be success in finding a just solution to the Palestine question on the basis of resolution 194 (1948).

Expressing appreciation for and gratitude to Ms. AbuZayd, he said that she was not only a genuine friend to the Palestine people, but a true friend of human causes, of causes of justice, and of the cause of peace.  He wished that she would remain with UNRWA until the Agency terminated its temporary mandate and, hopefully, for the birth of a Palestinian State.  Nonetheless, Ms. AbuZayd would remain as a key component of the Palestinian people’s struggle and steadfastness, and they would never forget that she been living with them for many years in the Gaza Strip.

The Agency was doing a great job for the Palestinian people, he continued.  Were it not for UNRWA, the Palestinian people would not be able to survive the onslaught and aggression committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip.  Stressing that the Agency was experiencing financial emergencies, he appealed to everyone to help UNRWA so that employees, particularly in the Gaza Strip, would not face the winter months without their salaries.  There were many people around the globe who were capable of helping, and there was a collective humanitarian responsibility to provide UNRWA with what it needed.

He asked Ms. AbuZayd to elaborate about efforts by UNRWA and the United Nations Secretary‑General in trying to bring Israel in compliance with paying compensation, including $11.2 million for the destruction of some UNRWA properties during the Gaza invasion.  In addition, he asked if Israel had refused to comply with a global consensus regarding the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

The representative of Syria said that, with the onset of the winter season, as the observer from Palestine had indicated, many Palestine refugees would face enormous odds without adequate resources to buy food, cleaning materials, clothes, and heating fuels needed for them and their families.  As a result of the blockade, the refugee population was depending more and more on assistance provided by UNRWA.  The oppression was occurring virtually on a day-to-day basis, and those human beings were losing hope, one year after the end of the hostilities.  The situation was even worse now, as the occupying authorities continued to impose a tight blockade, preventing construction materials from entering Gaza.  United Nations figures indicated that Israel had destroyed 5,000 housing units, in addition to part of more than 50,000 units.  In other words, one out of six houses in Gaza had been damaged or destroyed partly or completely.

He asked Ms. AbuZayd how she saw the current situation at the moment.  He wanted to know what preparations were being taken by UNRWA ahead of the winter season, and how that would affect the budget.

The representative of Egypt asked about the status of the implementation of agreed projects for Gaza’s reconstruction.

In response, Ms. ABUZAYD said that regarding the Board of Inquiry and follow-up, that was being carried out in New York between the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs and the Israeli Mission.  Meetings were taking place on a regular basis, and they were moving forward, but nothing was final as of yet.

Regarding reconstruction projects, those were still being discussed, particularly ones that involved water and sanitation.  She believed that some progress would be made.

She said that the current situation in Gaza was pretty much the same as at the end of January, mainly because no construction materials were coming in.  It was necessary to make sure that all those living beneath rubble and in plastic or tents would be able to move into rented accommodations.  Additional cash was needed for rental subsidies.  There had been quite a good response to the emergency appeal.  The difficulties regarding UNRWA’s budget pertained to its general fund, which allowed it to carry out its very basic mandate.  That’s where the budget was in trouble, she explained.

Lebanon’s representative asked whether Ms. AbuZayd considered the Israeli restrictions as a “blockade” or a “siege” on the Gaza strip.

Ms. ABUZAYD said she used the term “blockade” because, for those living inside, it felt very much like a blockade.  However, it was not legally a blockade because it did not strictly amount to that definition.  Still, people were stuck inside Gaza with nothing going in or out, with no imports or exports, and where the private sector had been totally destroyed.  She was not sure what else to call the situation, but that the situation “made for a miserable life inside Gaza.” 

Responding to the earlier question by the Egyptian delegate on how to fulfil the Agency’s mandate, she said that UNRWA was in a privileged position in that it had a good relationship with the Israeli Coordinator for the territories. Therefore, the Agency could get in food and medicine, whereas that was not allowed for some other agencies and ordinary peoples.  In that way, UNRWA’s activities went on as planned, when there was enough money.

ANDREAS LØVOLD of Norway, briefing the Committee as Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, said that members had held an extraordinary meeting to discuss the adequacy of the resources provided.  The discussion among members was still ongoing, but the group hoped that the contents of the report could be finalized within the coming days.  The report would stress the importance of UNRWA’s organizational development programme and its centrepiece, the management reform effort, for which the United Nations needed to give the Agency adequate financial support.

He said that despite earlier recommendations, funding for only 6 of 20 international posts had so far been approved by the General Assembly.  Other essential management tools were also required to utilize the existing funds effectively.  The mandate to provide high levels of programme supervision and reporting could not be fulfilled, owing to under-funding.  There would be a shortfall of approximately $85 million -- “just the latest deficit” -- in an annual series of steadily falling declines. 

For UNRWA, international staff salaries had declined, leading to a management deficit that could no longer be ignored, he said.  The Working Group agreed that this moment of “transformative change” at UNRWA should be seized upon and that the international community and the United Nations should provide it with the additional resources required to complete the reform programme.

Statements

FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, observer for Palestine, said that the occasion of UNRWA’s sixtieth anniversary was cause for solemn reflection about the long‑standing plight and continuing hardship of the Palestine refugees as a result of the denial of their rights, and thus the reason for the establishment and continued existence of the Agency.  It was tragic that, in 2009 -– more than six decades since the 1948 Al-Nakba following the partition of Mandate Palestine by General Assembly resolution 181 (II) -– the Palestine refugees and their descendants, who numbered nearly 4.7 million people and constituted more than half of the Palestinian population, continued to live as a “stateless and dispossessed people”, denied their right to return to their homes and to just compensation for their losses and suffering, in accordance with resolution 194 (III).  That injustice and their ongoing plight remained at the core of the Palestinian historical narrative and the search for justice and peace.

On the occasion of the anniversary, she expressed hope for a renewed and strengthened commitment to resolve the Palestine refugee problem, in accordance with international law and the relevant United Nations resolutions.  That was imperative, not only for the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a whole, in light of the regional dimension of the refugee problem.

In that regard, there must be a strong rejection of Israel’s constant rhetoric denying the rights of the Palestine refugees and any responsibility for their plight, she continued.  As had been repeatedly stated, had Israel abided by the United Nations Charter and its other obligations under international law and United Nations resolutions, the question of the Palestine refugees would have long ago been justly resolved, and the human tragedy would not persist.  It was also necessary to reaffirm the right of the Palestinians displaced in 1967 to return to their homes and lands and to call for implementation of the mechanism agreed to by the two sides to facilitate their return, which had been “too long overdue”.

Turning to the current situation of the Palestine refugees, she said that it was regretful that the past year had witnessed conflict and turmoil, which, once again, had gravely impacted the refugees.  The majority of the refugees faced numerous challenges under difficult socio-economic conditions.  Moreover, those in the refugee camps in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially in the besieged Gaza Strip, were struggling to survive a dire humanitarian crisis and constant affronts to their human rights and their families’ safety and welfare, as Israel, the occupying Power, carried out unlawful and harmful policies against the Palestinian civilian population, including ruthless measures of collective punishment.

Instead of a true commitment to peacemaking, the past year had witnessed the continued intransigence of Israel, persistent in its violations of international law, including humanitarian and human rights law, and the infliction of further harm and suffering on the Palestine refugee population, she said.  Israel’s continued imposition of its immoral, inhumane, unlawful blockade in collective punishment of the entire population -– by which it had impeded humanitarian access, prohibited the import of essential goods and all exports, and severely restricted the movement of persons –- had also ensured that the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip continued to live in misery amid the ruins of their homes and communities, intensifying their deprivation and hardship and inflaming feelings of injustice.  Even UNRWA had not been spared, as Israel deliberately attacked the Agency’s facilities, including schools where civilians were known to be sheltering, causing death, injury and extensive damage, including the destruction of the warehouse at UNRWA’s main compound, where tons of food, medical and other humanitarian supplies had been destroyed.

The findings of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Board of Inquiry and of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict in that regard were alarming, and should be pause for serious reflection by all Member States who had pledged to uphold the Charter and the immunity of the United Nations, she said.  The findings and recommendations of both the Board and the Fact Finding Mission required serious consideration and follow-up measures by Member States and the relevant organs of the United Nations system, including the Security Council and the General Assembly, towards ensuring that the perpetrators of such serious human rights violations and grave breaches of international humanitarian law were held accountable for their crimes, and that justice was realized for the victims.  Israel’s flagrant impunity must be ended, and international law, human rights and justice must prevail.  That was necessary for peace and stability.

Poverty, hunger, disease and unemployment remained rampant among the refugee population, she continued.  In that regard, it was deeply troubling that in the past year the number of those in abject poverty -- penniless with absolutely no income -- had tripled.  That situation persisted despite the pledges of aid from around the globe for reconstruction and recovery, because Israel continued to maliciously obstruct the aid from reaching Gaza.  The grave socio-economic conditions were further exacerbated by deteriorating health and sanitation systems and other infrastructure due to lack of spare parts and building materials, and the inability to reconstruct due to the blockade.  The blockade must be lifted and reconstruction must be immediately undertaken.  She also reiterated a call for implementation of the Secretary-General’s proposal to commence reconstruction in Gaza via the launch of suspended United Nations projects, including several of those managed by UNRWA.

Reiterating gratitude to UNRWA and to all United Nations agencies and humanitarian organizations working together to assist the refugees, she said that UNRWA’s work in all fields of operation clearly remained necessary, pending the attainment of a just, lasting solution.  A just resolution for the plight of the Palestine refugees remained among the highest priorities for the Palestinian leadership.  The issue remained a core final status issue, and was definitely one of the keys to peace.  She thus appealed once again to the international community to redouble efforts to promote the resumption of an accelerated peace process towards the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement of the question of Palestine in all its aspects.

PER ÖRNÉUS ( Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that through 60 years of service, UNRWA had contributed enormously to improving the living conditions and human dignity of millions of Palestine refugees and their communities.  That was a “unique success story”.  As UNRWA’s largest donor, the European Union had contributed more than 60 per cent of the Agency’s regular budget and to its special programmes and emergency appeals.  The Union’s policy in that regard had been guided by respect for international law, including humanitarian law and human rights.

He said that UNRWA’s contribution to the human capital of the region was beyond doubt.  In education, the Agency’s record was impressive, bringing education to half a million children in the Middle East.  The proportion of female pupils had doubled since the 1950s.  In the field of health, UNRWA had achieved a near 100 per cent vaccination record.  UNRWA ran a health-care programme that in 2008 alone had provided 9.9 million medical consultations.  Despite many challenges, UNRWA continued its tireless work to serve the Palestine refugees.

The European Union condemned the shelling of UNRWA infrastructures in Gaza in the beginning of this year, and deeply deplored the loss of life during the Gaza conflict, particularly civilian casualties, he said.  The humanitarian needs of the Palestine refugees remained of great concern.  The problem of limited access severely constrained UNRWA’s ability to fulfil its mandate and to help the refugees.  The Union called for the immediate and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods, and persons to and from Gaza.  Reconstruction and economic recovery had to be allowed in and the current humanitarian crisis must be solved.

Additionally, the long-serious financial situation of UNRWA had now come to a critical stage, which demanded increased international attention.  The core budget was chronically underfunded, as were the emergency appeals, which had been made worse by the international financial crisis.  If additional finding was not forthcoming, there would be far-reaching consequences for UNRWA’s operations.  Reducing educational expenses would deprive thousands of children of an education. Likewise, reducing health services would deprive the Palestinians of proper health care.  The provision of 90 per cent of UNRWA’s resources by 15 countries was not sustainable, and the Union strongly urged new donors to commit financially to join the work of UNRWA, and for current donors to increase their contributions.

REBECA HERNANDEZ TOLEDANO (Cuba), associating her delegation with statements to be made on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Rio Group, said that on the occasion of UNRWA’s anniversary, it could not have been imagined that the Agency’s noble humanitarian work would have extended for so long.  While her delegation commended its work, it regretted the continuation of its mandate, because it was a constant reminder that the Palestinian people continued to suffer under Israeli occupation.  Her delegation considered the Palestinian people’s ongoing suffering of the long and brutal Israeli occupation of their land since 1967 unjustifiable, as was the fact that they continued to be denied their fundamental human rights, inter alia, the right to self-determination and the right of the Palestine refugees to return to their land.

She was concerned about the tragic deterioration of the political, economic, social and humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, as a consequence of continued illegal policies and practices of the occupying Power against the Palestinian people.  The construction of a dividing wall, in clear violation of international laws, continued, and the settlement policy grew stronger in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  Israel’s unilateral measures in the Occupied Palestinian Territory seriously threatened prospects for achieving a negotiated settlement based on the two-State solution.

UNRWA had to carry out its work in extremely hard conditions, while Israeli authorities continued to impose unacceptable restrictions, in sheer violation of the United Nations Charter and other international conventions, she said.  UNRWA’s freedom of circulation of personnel, goods and vehicles was also restricted.  That undermined its capacity to exercise its functions and had caused it substantial monetary losses.  She endorsed the request contained in the UNRWA Commission report to study the possibility of including in the resolution on UNRWA a provision requesting the Israeli authorities to refund the amounts of outstanding port taxes, as appropriate.  It was also important that UNRWA received all the necessary support and guarantees to carry out its functions.

Mr. MASHABANE ( South Africa) said that for the past 60 years, UNRWA had carried out its mandate in addressing the basic needs of and providing essential services to Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, with distinction.  The conditions that had led to the establishment of the Agency had not changed; hence, South Africa believed in the Agency’s continued relevance.  His delegation supported the call made by the General Assembly last year to the United Nations Secretary-General to support the Agency’s institutional strengthening through the provision of sufficient financial resources from the United Nations regular budget.  It also noted with concern the projected funding gap, estimated at $78 million for 2009 and $141 million for 2010, preventing the Agency from fully implementing its budgeted activities. 

Calling on the international community to support UNRWA’s work, he said South Africa had, over the years, done so, financially and otherwise.  The “volatile security environment” in the region remained a challenge for the Agency, and his delegation condemned, in the strongest terms, the destruction of United Nations facilities, including schools, warehouses and its compound, which had occurred during the December 2008 and January 2009 shelling of Gaza by the Israeli Defense Force.  His delegation also called for an end to the blockade of Gaza, which only worsened the already deplorable humanitarian conditions.  South Africa called on Israel to ensure the unhindered and unimpeded access and safety of the Agency and its personnel.  The humanitarian challenges facing the people of Palestine and the neighbouring Arab States could only be addressed through the resolution of the political questions in the region. 

He said his delegation looked forward to the day when the bloodshed ended and two States –- Palestine and Israel -– were able to co-exist in peace and security, within internationally-recognized borders.

MIRJANA SPOLJARIC EGGER ( Switzerland) said that UNRWA was an agent of peace and human development in the Middle East, exerting a stabilizing influence in a region marred by long-standing conflicts and political volatility.  Sixty years after its creation, her delegation would like to express its gratitude to the Agency for its steady commitment and aid, which was unfortunately, still indispensable for 4.67 million Palestine refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Given the vital function that UNRWA assumed in the region, sufficient funding to carry out its mandate was a prerequisite.  While United Nations Headquarters paid for the agency’s 119 international staff, the rest of UNRWA’s funding depended on voluntary contributions.  UNRWA had, nevertheless, proved to be a credible and trustworthy partner. 

She said that, in the interest of peace and stability in the region, Member States had a collective responsibility to ensure that UNRWA was able to discharge its mandate.  Its already critical accumulated structural budget deficit had increased.  If not remedied, that dramatic financial situation would force the Agency to cut down its services to the refugee communities even more, and further staff reductions and deteriorating working conditions for its 30,000 employees would become unavoidable.

Switzerland also remained deeply concerned about the ongoing severe access and exit restrictions on Gaza, she said.  The protracted blockade seriously impeded UNRWA’s efforts, as well as those of other aid agencies, to improve the humanitarian situation of 1.5 million residents.  Mechanisms to guarantee the passage of reconstruction material, as well as basic and humanitarian assistance, must be found swiftly to allow for the reconstruction of Gaza and its economic recovery.  Such mechanisms must be independent and impartial.  In that regard, she recalled that, in conformity with international humanitarian law, all parties to the conflict should allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access. 

AHMED ALDEHARY ( United Arab Emirates) said that UNRWA’s recent reports reflected the overall dangerous and challenging conditions prevailing in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  That was an inevitable result if the policy of destruction and widespread violations practiced by the Israeli forces against the Palestinians.  As a result of those practices, hundreds of lives had been lost, and thousands had been injured.  The incursions had not just targeted civilians, but also the international organizations, including UNRWA, which were operating in the Gaza Strip.  The suffocating isolation of Gaza had exacerbated the suffering caused by the widespread destruction and crimes committed by the Israeli forces last December and January.  The United Nations statistics had shown that Israeli forces had destroyed more than 500 housing units and partially damaged 5,000 more, thereby creating new refugees.  The Israeli aggression, which included the deliberate destruction of UNRWA facilities where refugees sought shelter, exacerbated UNRWA’s burdens.  Moreover, UNRWA personnel were also targeted and subjected to investigations and inquiry.

He reaffirmed political and moral support to UNRWA, in the form of both direct and indirect support for its humanitarian projects.  He called on the international community to strongly condemn the Israeli violations of international law and international humanitarian law, and demanded that “ Israel the occupier” cease its aggression and remove all restrictions created to impede the implementation of UNRWA’s plans and programmes.

MANAR TALEB ( Syria) said that Israel persisted in not ending the Palestinian tragedy, which it had created.  Israel flouted all resolutions via practices that were part and parcel of its policy, and it rejected complying with resolutions, and regarded resolutions adopted by the General Assembly in an ironical manner.  It also still prevented the application of resolution 194 (1948), which called for the return of the Palestine refugees to their homes.  Instead, Israel introduced alien settlers from all parts of the world, in order to dominate the homes, territories and country of the Palestine people.

He said that Israel committed those actions in total disregard for international resolutions and for the legitimacy of human rights, which clearly stipulated the right of each Palestinian to return to his country and to his village, home and possessions.  The number of Palestine refugees had reached more than 5 million, the largest number of refugees in the world.  Israel brought racist settlers and communities from all parts of the world to replace the Palestinians and take hold of their homes and villages, without any regard for all of the international community’s appeals.  Israel reminded the world, daily, that it was above international legitimacy.  Israel also turned a deaf ear to established facts in United Nations reports and refused to pay compensation for bombarding a United Nations building, in consonance with a request from the United Nations Secretary-General. 

Syria would continue to make all efforts to provide every aspect of support to the Palestinian people, until they returned to their homes, he said.  The total expenditures by Syria for Palestine refugees had reached more than $150 million in 2008, in education, social and health services, together with food provisions and security, inter alia.  The responsibility towards the Palestine refugees was a political, ethical and legal one.  It was inevitable, therefore, that UNRWA should continue in accordance with its mandate until it was implemented completely.  That would require additional contributions, as well as a widening of the donor base, and following through with those who made pledges.  His delegation stressed the importance of safeguarding and supporting UNRWA’s mandate, in such a way as would guarantee the return of the Palestine refugees to their homes, in accordance with resolution 194.

AHMAD ALI AL-TAMIMI ( Qatar) commended Ms. Abuzayd and all UNRWA staff for their work in such areas as health-care education and emergency relief.  UNRWA’s employees were “constantly harassed by the Israeli authorities”, and the Israeli army had even shelled UNRWA-run schools in Gaza directly.  He condemned the damaging of UNRWA schools in Gaza, and called on the Security Council to set up a plan for those schools to become safe havens for the refugees.  He asked what had happened to the recommendations of the recent Fact Finding Mission, saying that the Security Council had failed to take steps in implementing “this initiative”.

While celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of UNWRA, he also noted that the Palestinian people had been suffering for 60 years.  The recent Israeli aggression against and blockade of Gaza had only worsened the humanitarian situation of Palestine refugees.  The Gaza strip was “really on the brink of economic meltdown”, and the growing dependence of its population on external assistance, as well as the restrictions of movement of individuals, had negatively impacted the economy in all Palestinian Territory.

Bearing in mind that the number of Palestine refugees was growing, he reminded the international community of its responsibility to the Palestinian people and called on all donor Governments to contribute more to UNRWA’s activities to improve its services, whether through emergency relief or other kinds of assistance.

Mr. LØVOLD ( Norway), in his national capacity, said that, 60 years after it was established, UNRWA and its services were unfortunately more relevant than ever.  Needless to say, the final-status issue of right to return remained unresolved, leaving millions in encampments with no end to their situation in sight.  But also, the refugee population was growing by 2.4 per cent annually, and would continue to do so for as long as the issue remained unresolved.  During the past 60 years, the number of registered refugees had more than quadrupled –- to approximately 4.6 million today.  Even if a meaningful peace process was established and the refugee issue was resolved, there would probably be a transitional period when UNRWA’s services and support were needed as strongly as ever.  That period might last for as long as 10 to 15 years. 

He said his delegation had been concerned during the last few years about the trend in UNRWA’s financial stability.  The growing refugee population and further deterioration of the economic situation in UNRWA’s mandate area had caused a steady increase in demand for UNRWA’s services.  There had been little change, however, in the volume of funding available.  Consequently, UNRWA had depleted its working capital in the last few years, and earlier this year, had posted a budget gap of $87 million for 2009.

During its chairmanship of UNRWA’s Advisory Commission from July 2008 to July 2009, Norway had taken several initiatives to secure funding from a broader base of donors, he said.  That had been essential in addressing the rights of Palestine refugees to basic social services, and he wanted to pay tribute to all those donors who responded and provided extraordinary funds.  But projections for the coming years were unpromising, to say the least.  Unless a permanent solution to the funding of UNRWA was found, there would still be the same urgent problem and ad-hoc response every year from now on. 

A first and important step would be to enhance the resource base.  Currently, only 15 States contributed more than 90 per cent of the funding for UNRWA’s general fund.  Those States had all indicated that they had reached the limit for how much they were prepared to provide, which meant that additional regular contributions needed to come from new donors.  Calling on the Group of Twenty (G-20) members to become involved, he also called on Arab States to honour Arab League resolution 4625 from April 1987, where Arab States committed to contributing no less than 7.7 per cent of UNRWA’s general fund.

A next step would be to ensure that a greater share of UNRWA’s funding came from the United Nations regular budgets, he said.  First and foremost, that would make UNRWA’s own financial status more predictable.  It would also result in a more equitable burden-sharing.  At the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary this year, the representatives of the regional groups had all expressed their concerns regarding UNRWA’s financial situation.  Now was the time to come through and support increasing the funding through the General Assembly.  UNRWA was more than merely a provider of social services; it had come to represent hope to those deprived of the rights taken for granted by those living in peaceful parts of the world, and was today the face of humanity, the bearer of human rights and democracy, and the guarantor of protection of women and children in a region torn by conflict and violence.

HOANG CHI TRUNG ( Viet Nam) called for the international donor community to redouble its efforts in supporting UNRWA’s operations.  Expressing grave concern for the loss of life and dire humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he said that the resulting economic and social crisis had led to further hardships and deepening psychological trauma for the Palestinian people.  It was the responsibility of the international community to join efforts and help solve the crisis.

He said that the closures, curfews and other restrictions in those areas had hindered UNRWA from performing its mandated tasks.  He urged Israel to guarantee safe working conditions for UNRWA staff.  UNRWA enjoyed the privileges and immunities as an organ of the United Nations, and that the Agency’s work, in no way, should be impeded.  He also called for all parties concerned to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law and, in light of the report prepared by the Fact Finding Mission on Gaza, for investigations to be conducted to ensure justice for the victims whose rights had been violated.  He hoped that those efforts would contribute to restoring the peace process in the Middle East.

MOHAMMED AL-ALLAF ( Jordan) said that UNRWA’s rapid response had played a very effective role in relieving the suffering of “our brothers” in the Gaza strip during the Israeli aggression.  The role played by UNRWA indeed confirmed its commitment to humanitarian principles, and he expressed Jordan’s gratitude to all UNRWA staff, commending their heroic performance.  The suffering of the Palestinians was palpable, and was still evident in Gaza, where the situation had only worsened with the advent of winter.  Children in Gaza needed “help and solidarity” from the international community, now more than ever.  Their plight required that immediate measures be taken to lift the blockade and open the crossings, to allow the movement of supplies for reconstruction.

He said that Jordan, for its part, would redouble efforts to make known the suffering of the Palestinians.  He expressed deep concern at the “cut-offs”, curfews and other restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities.  The restrictions had only rendered more acute the suffering of a people who were already in a dire situation.  Those measures by Israel impeded economic development and prevented people from getting to work, as well as blocked access to essential services and commodities.  That was also a further impediment to UNRWA’s work.

He called on Israel to lift the restrictions affecting UNRWA.  For six decades, UNRWA had employed efforts to help Palestine refugees, and carried out a task of “historic magnitude”.  He called on all donors without exception to continue to provide financial help to UNRWA, thereby ensuring that the necessary services were provided to the Palestinian people.  Any attempts to cut back UNRWA’s role or any of its responsibility, while the issue of the Palestine refugees remained unresolved, must be rejected.

ABDULNASER H. ALHARTHI ( Saudi Arabia) said that in order to enable UNRWA to implement its programmes, the international community, especially donors, including the specialised financial institutions like the World Bank and others, should double their contributions.  While the Agency had carried out its duties in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since its inception, the Israeli occupation and oppressive and arbitrary actions had increased the suffering of the Palestinian population, seriously affecting all aspects of life in the Occupied Territory.  That included the closure of crossings, the construction of the isolating barrier in the West bank, the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, curfews and other restrictions on travel to and from the West Bank and Gaza strip.  During the aggressions by Israel on the Gaza Strip in late 2008 and early 2009, the Israeli occupying forces destroyed schools and health centres affiliated with UNRWA, killing many Agency staff.  Even the buildings and facilities of the Agency were not spared from deliberate hits launched by the Israeli occupation army.  Those forces had ignored the Agency’s relief and humanitarian role and acted in utter disregard of the international conventions, which emphasize the safety and security of United Nations and associated personnel and of humanitarian workers in conflict zones.

He strongly condemned the continuing obstructions imposed on the delivery of necessary materials, such as medicines and daily necessities, through the continued closure of crossings and the siege on the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip.  Saudi Arabia demanded the immediate cessation of that unjust embargo and of all arbitrary measures and restrictions imposed by Israel on international organizations.  It also demanded the demolition of the isolating wall and said that Israel should be compelled to compensate UNRWA for all the damages and losses inflicted upon its properties and premises.  In addition, that country remained bound under the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure the safe delivery, without any restrictions or conditions, of food, medical supplies and other goods, in order to meet the humanitarian needs of the population of the Gaza Strip.

Saudi Arabia was committed to supporting humanitarian causes, both at the governmental and grassroots levels, in accordance with its Islamic beliefs, he stated.  A report issued by OCHA had confirmed that the country topped the world list in terms of voluntary contributions to finance humanitarian-relief operations in 2008.  In continuation of its support to UNRWA’s humanitarian work in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and to its assistance to refugees living in camps in

other countries, Saudi Arabia had contributed $734.8 million to the budgets of the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA between 2002 and 2009.  It was also allocating $200 million for projects under consideration with each of the Al-Aqsa Funds administered by the Islamic Development Bank, UNRWA and the World Bank.  In addition, it had contributed $25 million for the reconstruction of the Nahr Al Bared refugee camp in Lebanon.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.