As Budget Shortfall, Insecurity Threaten Efforts of UN Agency for Palestine Refugees, 17 Member States Promise Funds at Pledging Conference

3 December 2013
GA/11461-PAL/2169

As Budget Shortfall, Insecurity Threaten Efforts of UN Agency for Palestine Refugees, 17 Member States Promise Funds at Pledging Conference

3 December 2013
General Assembly
GA/11461
PAL/2169
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary

Contributions to UNRWA

1st Meeting (AM)


As Budget Shortfall, Insecurity Threaten Efforts of UN Agency For Palestine


Refugees, 17 Member States Promise Funds at Pledging Conference


Appealing to the international community to confront a $65 million cash shortfall in its 2014 budget, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) today heard representatives of 17 countries pledge to provide voluntary contributions.


Several Member States announced their pledges during a meeting organized by the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.  The Agency, funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from Member States, assists some 5 million refugees and suffers from a chronic funding shortage.


Margot Ellis, the Agency’s Deputy Commissioner-General, highlighted the deepening crises in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Syria, saying they had increased the financial pressures on UNRWA.  The number of food-insecure households in Gaza had increased from 44 per cent in 2011 to 57 per cent in 2012.  Settlement expansion and growing violence were affecting many in the West Bank.  Meanwhile, the tragedy unfolding in Syria had turned into “one of the most profoundly complex emergencies” that UNRWA faced.


At the same time, she reminded Member States, the Agency was embarking on programme reform as well as the development of its Medium-Term Strategy for 2016‑2021.  UNRWA was therefore in “the challenging position of pushing forward with reforms amidst a situation of tremendous financial security”, she noted.  Of the $300 million the Agency had requested in emergency support for Gaza and the West Bank, only 42 per cent was funded.  Despite a generous overall contribution of $290 million towards UNRWA’s regional appeal for Syria and neighbouring countries, only 50 per cent of its funding needs inside Syria had been met.  And the $687 million for the 2014 budget already anticipated a cash shortfall of 10 per cent.


To put the Agency on a more solid footing, Arab States should fulfil their engagement to fund 7.8 per cent of UNRWA’s General Fund, as promised during the September meeting on the margins of the General Assembly, she said.  The Agency continued to rely on its major donors, including the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.  It was also mobilizing support through engagements with Governments in Latin America and Asia as well as public and private sector partnerships.


Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine said that by providing social services and emergency support, UNRWA had also provided Palestine refugees with “stability, opportunity and hope”.  Thanking host countries and the international donor community for their principled support, he reiterated the call to meet UNRWA’s emergency appeals.  It was also crucial to support the Agency’s core budget, which paid the salaries of thousands of teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers and other personnel assisting the refugees directly every day.


Sofia Mesquita Borges, Acting President of the Ad Hoc Committee, delivered opening remarks.


Confirmed Pledges


Bahrain ($50,000), Belgium (€6 million), Bulgaria ($475,000 for humanitarian efforts and $70,000 to support Palestine refugees in Syria), Estonia (€70,000), Egypt($15,000), United States ($100 million), Indonesia ($100,000), Ireland (€4 million each to the 2014 and 2015 general funds), Kuwait($2 million), Luxembourg (€3.75 million), Malaysia ($250,000), Mexico($100,000), New Zealand ($NZ1 million), Netherlands (€13 million), Qatar ($1 million), United Kingdom ($174 million multi-year funding agreement), Thailand ($40,000) and Turkey ($1.275 million plus food aid).


Pledges to be Confirmed


Sweden ($42 million); Austria (€1.05 million, including €750,000 via development agency and €300,000 from the Foreign Ministry, pending parliamentary approval); Norway (same as 2013); Italy (same as 2013); and Spain (same as 2013).


Background


Member States gathered this morning for a pledging conference organized under the auspices of the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.


Statements


SOFIA MESQUITA BORGES, Acting President, Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said the major threat to the Agency’s operations in a complex political and security environment was the lack of financial support.  Recognizing the 56 Member States and international organizations that had provided funds to the Agency in 2012, she said its mandate was international despite the regional character of its operation.  Nine United Nations Member States, as well as members of the European Union, were providing 66 per cent of UNRWA’s budget, she emphasized, while welcoming the recent engagements by the League of Arab States to achieve and sustain 7.8 per cent of contributions from Arab Governments to the Agency’s core budget.  In conclusion, she thanked the outgoing Commissioner-General and welcomed his successor.


MARGOT ELLIS, Deputy Commissioner-General of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, delivered a statement on behalf of Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi.  She said 2013 had been marked by deepening crises in the region that had affected all fields of the Agency’s operation.  The number of food-insecure households in the Gaza Strip had risen from 44 per cent in 2011 to 57 per cent in 2012, she said, predicting that the scarcity of water resources and unemployment would render Gaza inhabitable by 2020.  In the West Bank, emergency needs for approximately 750,000 Palestine refugees were increasing, she added, noting that the expansion of settlements and the growing violence were affecting many.


She went on to state that UNRWA had appealed to the international community in 2013 for $300 million in emergency support for Gaza and the West Bank.  Regrettably, only 42 per cent of it was funded.  Meanwhile, the tragedy unfolding in Syria had turned into “one of the most profoundly complex emergencies” that UNRWA faced, with 59 of the Agency’s 180 installations damaged and the unrelenting violence having forced approximately 50,000 Palestine refugees to flee into Lebanon.  Another priority was to ensure the return of the remaining 17,000  Palestine refugees displaced from the Nahr el-Bared camp in 2007, but the relatively low funding prevented the completion of construction.


Thanking the international community for its generous contributions totalling $290 million towards UNRWA’s regional appeal for Syria and neighbouring countries, she said the Agency had so far received 72 percent of the overall funding it needed, but only 50 per cent towards the needs inside Syria.  Inevitably, they would continue to grow in 2014.  Despite the adversity, UNRWA had ensured the implementation of programme reform, which had yielded positive results in the areas of health and education.  Efforts were also underway to develop UNRWA’s Medium-Term Strategy for 2016-2021.  UNRWA was thus in “the challenging position of pushing forward with reforms amidst a situation of tremendous financial insecurity”.


Despite the implementation of stringent austerity measures, UNRWA still had an estimated cash shortfall of $36 million, she continued.  In September, it had organized a meeting during General Assembly week to urge Arab States to fulfil their own engagement to fund 7.8 per cent of the Agency’s General Fund.  If that target were met, UNRWA’s finances would be on a more solid footing.  In the meantime, it continued to rely on support from its major donors, including the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.  The Agency had also engaged with Governments in Latin America, Asia and other parts of the world and aimed to mobilize resources by building new partnerships with the public and private sectors, she said.  For 2014, it had developed a core budget of $687 million with nearly zero growth, and a cash shortfall of 10 per cent, or $65 million, was already anticipated.  Until the tragic plight of the Palestine refugees came to an end, UNRWA’s ability to serve them would depend on the generosity of Member States, donors and host communities, she said.


Stéphane Rey ( Switzerland) said that in addition to its regular contribution, his country would be making additional contributions for 2013 of close to $12 million, including $1.7 million for winterization programmes in Syria and $2.9 million to strengthen the national reform programme.  It was still too early to announce a concrete pledge for 2014, but Switzerland was committed to aligning its bilateral contributions with the Agency’s priorities, he emphasized.


JIM MCLAY ( New Zealand) said that funding to UNRWA represented a very tangible expression of support for the Middle East peace process.  With the Agency facing unprecedented financial pressures, greater contributions from traditional donors could not be the only answer.  Recognizing that predictable and flexible funding was the best way to deliver real benefits, New Zealand had maintained its core funding for UNRWA in 2014 at current levels.  In addition to $NZ1 million in core funding, the country had also provided $NZ250,000 this month for operations under the Syria Regional Response Plan, he said, pledging another $NZ1 million in core funding for UNRWA.


CHAYAPAN BAMRUNGPHONG ( Thailand) said bilateral ties between his country and Palestine had grown stronger since the formal establishment of diplomatic relations in 2012.  Given the increasing financial burden that UNRWA had to shoulder, Thailand had consistently provided it with financial contributions since 1978, and the Government had increased its annual pledge from $30,000 annually to $40,000, beginning from 2014.


Signe Burgstaller ( Sweden) reiterated her country’s political and financial support for UNRWA, recognizing its high-quality humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees.  Expressing concern over conditions on the ground, she said the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria had had negative consequences for the region.  The increasing displacement of refugees exacerbated the situation in the already crowded refugee camps.  Conscious of the need for additional and predictable resources, she pledged contributions amounting to $42 million for the Agency’s 2014 core budget, emphasizing the availability of additional support for emergency operations.


Karel Jan Gustaaf Van Oosterom( Netherlands), recalling his work in the region during the 1990s, recognized the invaluable work done by UNRWA in the areas of job creation, education and health, among others.  Despite the great progress made, more must be done, he said, urging the Agency to mobilize additional resources from regional and private donors.  Having already contributed more than €30 million to UNRWA’s General Fund in 2013 and €2.5 million to its emergency appeal for the Syrian crisis, the Netherlands would pledge €30 million to the Agency’s General Fund, subject to parliamentary approval, he said.


Ricardo Alday González( Mexico) said that in light of the increased need for services to address the growing needs of Palestine refugees, as well as the rising financial deficit, his Government was deeply concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian conditions.  Mexico would be increasing its contributions from $15,000 to $100,000 annually and hoped to provide more support in the future.


Levent Eler( Turkey), emphasizing that contributions to UNRWA served the cause of stability in the Middle East, his Government would be providing $1,275,000 in cash donations to the Agency over the upcoming year.  That would include a contribution of $1 million to the general budget and $275,000 to regular and emergency food appeals.  Further, Turkey reaffirmed its current in-kind and emergency assistance to UNRWA, whereby 10,000 tons of wheat flour and other food supply would be delivered in 2014.


Mr. EDMOND (United States) said his Government was pleased to announce an initial pledge today of $100 million for UNRWA’s 2014 programmes, including $60 million in support of its General Fund, $39 million in support of emergency activities in Gaza and the West Bank and $1 million to help provide relief to refugees displaced from Nahr el-Bared camp in northern Lebanon.  The United States was the largest bilateral donor to the Agency having provided more than $294 million in 2013.


Andreas Riecken ( Austria), recognizing UNRWA’s role as the provider of key essential services to Palestine Refugees, said its schools were educating the new generation of Palestinians on nonviolence, democracy and peace.  However, the alarming conflict in Syria had drawn in the Palestinian Yamuk camps near Damascus.  Austria would pledge €300,000 to the Agency’s core budget, subject to support from the relevant national authorities.


Abdulaziz S M A AlJarallah( Kuwait) reiterated the need for all donors to mobilize the financial contributions announced in the emergency appeal of 2013.  Expressing appreciation of the Agency’s mitigating efforts, he emphasized that since 2009, Kuwait had contributed more than $34 million in 2009 and disbursed $15 million to rebuild 35 UNRWA schools.  Kuwait would continue its support by pledging its annual contribution of $2 million.


JAVIER SANABRIA ( Spain) said his country’s difficult current economic situation would not alter its unwavering support for UNRWA.  Without Spain’s share of the European Union contribution to the Agency, its bilateral contributions amounted to $7.2 million in 2012.  Further, Spain would announce a financial commitment for 2014, he added, stressing that Spanish commitment to Palestine refugees went beyond financial contributions given Spain’s important role as a member of UNRWA’s Advisory Committee.  Welcoming efforts to broaden the Agency’s donor base, he said Spain shared the legitimate aspirations of Palestine refugees for a better life.


SEBASTIANO CARDI ( Italy) said his Government had a long tradition of contributing to the Agency through the European Union as well as bilaterally.  UNRWA clearly required more predictable funding, it was important to share the burden adequately.  Italy would soon announce its contributions for the next year, he said, recalling that in 2013, it had provided €8 million to the Agency, including €1 million to support health reform in Palestine refugee camps and €2 million in emergency funding.


OLIVIER MAES ( Luxembourg) said his country would be making its voluntary contribution of €3.75 million, in accordance with its multi-year contribution agreement with UNRWA, to support the Agency’s human development programmes.  The socioeconomic crisis in the Gaza Strip was worsening due to the detrimental effects of the Israeli blockade that had been in place for seven years now.  “We cannot take a purely humanitarian approach,” he emphasized, calling for a negotiated peace based on the coexistence of two States with a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.


David Donoghue( Ireland), recognizing the extraordinary demands made on the Agency by the conflict in Syria, called for all humanitarian actors to have access to those in need of assistance.  Ireland had disbursed more than €23 million to the Agency’s General Fund since 2007 and pledged €4 million for 2014, with €1 million earmarked for Palestine refugees in Lebanon.  Between the General Fund and UNRWA’s emergency appeals, the Government of Ireland had contributed €4.64 million to the Agency since 2006, he added.


Mr. ANGELOV ( Bulgaria) expressed concern over the chronic underfunding of UNRWA, as well as the humanitarian effects of the Syrian crisis on the wider region.  Bulgaria pledged a contribution of $475,000 for humanitarian efforts and $70,000 to support Palestine refugees in Syria.  With refugees seeking asylum in other countries, including more than 10,000 asylum seekers in Bulgaria, their presence far exceeded its capacities to absorb them.


Jiang Hua( China) called upon the international community to continue paying close attention to the humanitarian situation in the region, noting that his country had made active contributions to promoting the socioeconomic development of Palestine.  China had donated to UNRWA every year while also providing bilateral assistance, he said, adding that it had substantially increased its contribution to the Agency beginning in 2013 and would consider increasing it further at the appropriate time.


MARTIN SHEARMAN ( United Kingdom) said that ultimately the best solution to the situation of Palestine refugees was a political one.  In the meantime, the United Kingdom supported UNRWA’s humanitarian work as it had since its inception, he said, adding that his country provided predictable and multi-year support to the Agency and was its third largest donor.  The United Kingdom Government’s support included €24 million for the construction of schools and €33.5 million for the emergency appeal for Syria.  UNRWA’s traditional sources of support had indeed increased, but “our resources are not unlimited”, he stressed.  It was vital that the Agency focus its limited resources on services that would provide the most value.


RAJA REZA RAJA ZAIB SHAH ( Malaysia) said that this year, his Government was pledging a voluntary one-off contribution of $250,000 towards UNRWA’s emergency appeal.  Malaysia would also continue to maintain its level of annual contributions for the Agency’s regular budget.  That contribution was over and above Malaysia’s direct bilateral assistance to Palestine refugees and the cooperation programmes to which it contributed, he pointed out.


Pascal Buffin ( Belgium) noted that in 2013, more than any other year, the Agency needed additional support.  Belgium had contributed more than €9.5 million through bilateral efforts as well as European Union initiatives since 2011, he said.  In 2013, the Government had disbursed €6 million, with an additional €7 million for humanitarian programmes in Gaza and Syria specifically.  Belgium would do the same in the future, he added.


Margus Kolga ( Estonia) noted that his country had contributed €80,000 to UNRWA in 2013, while €50,000 were earmarked for 2014 and €30,000 for humanitarian works in the refugee camps of Lebanon.  To ensure the predictability of UNRWA’s work, Estonia had already transferred €70,000, he said, welcoming the Agency’s provision of protection, assistance and humanitarian relief to Palestine refugees.


ZSOLT HETESY ( Hungary) said that, besides its contributions to the European Union Assistance Fund, his country had donated approximately $50,000 to UNRWA’s projects in Lebanon during 2013.  Furthermore, Hungary was considering a proposal to make regular annual contributions to the Agency’s budget beginning in 2014.


Mochammad Chandra W. Yudha ( Indonesia) said his country would be making a voluntary contribution of $100,000 in 2014, a reflection of its continuing solidarity with the Palestinian people.  “It was also necessary to prepare them for statehood,” he added.  He said Indonesia would host a conference on cooperation among East Asian countries with a view to bolstering Palestinian development.


Abdulrahman Yaaqob Y.A. Al-Hamadi ( Qatar) said his country had pledged $5 million, to be disbursed in tranches of $1 million per year for the next five years in support of education programmes and the construction of schools.  UNRWA’s services were the minimum required to enable the Palestine refugees to enjoy their human rights, he added, urging donor countries to raise their contributions.


ROBERTO STORACI, representative of the European Union Delegation, said that despite its present financial constraints, the bloc remained committed to supporting Palestine refugees through UNRWA, as demonstrated by its contributions of more than €1.4 billion between 2000 and 2013.  As the Agency’s largest and most predictable donor, the European Union attached great importance to its budget reforms.  Calling for more equitable burden sharing, he welcomed UNRWA’s efforts to extend its donor base beyond traditional contributors.


Mr. ALZAYAINI (Bahrain), saluting the staff of UNRWA for performing their noble task in deteriorating conditions, said that although the Agency had been established in 1949 as an interim solution to the Palestine refugee problem, it should continue its work until a final settlement of the conflict.  The United Nations bore a special responsibility to the Palestinian people, he emphasized, saying that, as an expression of its support for the Agency, Bahrain would contribute $50,000 for 2014.


Knut Langeland( Norway) said his country’s core contribution would continue at the current level.  The crisis in Syria had reached catastrophic proportions, increasing demand for UNRWA’s resources.  Further, restrictions on imports going into and exports leaving Gaza also rendered the Agency’s services essential.  It was under pressure both politically and financially.  In order to continue its service delivery, UNRWA must adapt to changing realities and accord priority to vulnerable refugee groups.  Norway welcomed its commitment to increasing financial transparency and accountability, he said.  “We all have a stake in UNRWA’s success.”


RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, said that, while providing schooling, medical care, protection, food assistance, jobs, social services and emergency support, UNRWA had also provided significant “stability, opportunity and hope”.  Of course, its work would not be possible without the collective, principled support of host countries and the international donor community, he stressed.  Expressing appreciation for the funding pledges made today and the contributions, both financial and in-kind, made in the past year, he echoed the call for increased funding to meet UNRWA’s emergency appeals, including for the Gaza Strip.  The international community must also pay attention to the critical situation of Palestine refugee communities in Lebanon and Syria and continue to support UNRWA’s core budget, which would enable the Agency to pay the salaries of thousands of teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers and other personnel directly assisting the refugees every day.


Closing Remarks


Ms. ELLIS, Deputy Commissioner-General of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, thanked the outgoing Commissioner-General for his service, saying she looked forward to working with his successor.  She also commended Member States for their advocacy efforts and financial support.  “Only through your generosity can the Palestine refugees be sustained until a sustainable and peaceful solution is found,” she said.


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