A total of 20 donors today announced contributions, or their intention to contribute, to the 2018 budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as officials called for stable financing for the Agency amid devastating conflicts and violence in the Middle East.
The voluntary contributions were made during a meeting of the Agency’s Ad Hoc Committee, established by the General Assembly as the primary forum for announcing financial support. UNRWA has been providing health, education, relief and social services, as well as emergency humanitarian assistance, to some 5.3 million Palestinian refugees across its five fields of operation — Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — for 65 years.
Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, said that in January, the Agency’s financial situation became catastrophic due to the sudden loss of $300 million in voluntary contributions. “Facing the most severe funding crisis in our history, we had no time for pessimism or indecision,” he said, emphasizing that the Agency had reacted swiftly, launching a multi-dimensional strategy in January to mobilize support, sustain programmes and prevent a major humanitarian crisis from sweeping through an unstable region.
UNRWA also took robust internal measures, imposing severe cost controls and austerity measures and breaking new ground by launching a global campaign, among other steps, he said. As a result, more than $200 million was pledged in additional funding between March and May 2018. Nevertheless, the Agency’s current shortfall was in excess of $250 million, he said, stressing that the situation would be particularly critical for emergency operations in the West Bank and Gaza. At risk was food for more than a million refugees, psycho-social support in Gaza as well as education for more than 525,000 boys and girls.
Secretary-General António Guterres stressed: “We cannot afford to allow UNRWA’s vital efforts to falter. Failure to provide desperately needed resources comes with a price: more hardship for communities, more desperation for the region; more instability for our world.” Millions of refugees were looking to UNRWA to relieve their suffering and help them build a better future through immediate action. The Agency’s outstanding work had an immediate effect on the everyday lives of millions of Palestinian refugees, while providing a foundation for hope and dignity and serving as a critical conflict-prevention mechanism, he said.
Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia), President of the General Assembly, highlighted UNRWA’s critical services to the Palestinian people, from health care to housing; from infrastructure to microfinance; from emergency relief to education. In that connection, he noted that 54 per cent of the Agency’s budget was spent on education, yet it could not continue to provide its vital services on a “shoestring”. UNRWA’s funding gap would have a real impact on the ground, he said, underlining that the shortfall was too high and the future too uncertain.
The following delegations made confirmed pledges in the following amounts: Switzerland (CHF 19 million); Turkey ($1.5 million); Sweden ($250 million over four years); Austria (€400,000); India ($5 million); European Union (€106 million); Belgium (€22.75 million for 2018, with an additional €5 million for an UNRWA education programme); Mexico ($500,000); Kuwait ($8 million); Estonia (€200,000); Japan (beyond its annual contribution, pledged an additional $10 million in April and an additional $5 million for food assistance); Malta (€105,000 in 2018); Cyprus ($50,000); United Kingdom ($51 million); Ireland (€4.25 million plus an additional €1.5 million for humanitarian assistance); Australia ($A 80 million for 2016‑2020); United Arab Emirates ($50 million for an UNRWA educational programme, as well as $15 million for the upcoming school year); Indonesia ($200,000); Italy (€6.8 million, €5 million for projects in Lebanon); and the Holy See ($100,000).
The following delegations indicated pledges pending approval: Austria (€1 million to a UNRWA health programme) and Germany (unspecified contribution to the World Bank Trust Fund).
The following delegations also drew attention to the contributions they had made during a pledging conference held in March 2018: Qatar, Canada and Norway.
Further support for UNWRA was expressed by the representatives of the Russian Federation, Brazil, Netherlands, Egypt, Jordan, France, Malaysia, Lebanon, China and Norway with no specific pledges announced.
Following those interventions, the Deputy Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine said that everyone was aware of what was at stake if UNRWA’s funding shortfall was not met. She stressed that UNRWA continued to serve as a vital lifeline for millions of refugee families who continued to bear the grave consequences of historic injustice. The contributions made today reaffirmed the rights of the Palestinian people and the need to reach a just solution.
Mr. Krähenbühl then made a closing statement and thanked delegations for their pledges.