The head of the main United Nations agency providing relief to Palestine refugees appealed today for emergency funds needed to cope with an unprecedented economic collapse in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Peter Hansen, made his call at a donors meeting in Amman, Jordan, where he presented a progress report on the funding situation following earlier appeals. According to the report, the Agency needs an estimated $80 million to carry out its emergency operations from June through December.
In his remarks, Mr. Hansen lauded the quick and generous response of the international community to past appeals but added that emergency assistance would still be required in the future. He noted that the Agency's budget deficit was hampering its ability to function. UNRWA, which has an allotted regular budget of $311 million, has so far received pledges of only $243 million.
Painting a grim picture of current conditions, the report states that "more than 81 per cent of the Palestinians living in Gaza and 55 per cent in the West Bank are living below the poverty line" -- meaning that they must get by on less than $2.10 per day.
According to the report, by the end of April, UNRWA had given more than $750,000 to some 2,000 families in Gaza. Families can qualify for this assistance for a number of reasons, including loss of the primary breadwinner and forced relocation following shelling or bulldozing by Israeli security forces. In terms of food distribution, from January until the end of March, more than 120,000 families had received emergency rations.
UNRWA's activities have been negatively impacted by Israeli-imposed restrictions. For example, the transport of food commodities has been delayed as a result of security measures imposed by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint leading to Gush Qatif settlement. Over 4,000 members of the Agency's teaching staff "experience difficulties or are completely unable to reach their workplace each time Israeli soldiers impose mobility restrictions," the report states.
Established over 50 years ago, UNRWA is the main provider of basic services to over 3.7 million registered Palestine refugees in the Middle East.