Head of UN agency warns not to let aid for Palestinians suffer due to focus on Iraq

Head of UN agency warns not to let aid for Palestinians suffer due to focus on Iraq

UNRWA chief Peter Hansen
The head of the United Nations lead agency for Palestinian refugees, Peter Hansen, today appealed to the international community not to let the West Bank and Gaza slide down its list of priorities as the world focuses on a potential conflict in Iraq.

Mr. Hansen, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), also warned that the Agency’s emergency activities in the region will run out of resources and come to an end by late March – including the feeding of 1.1 million people – unless donations are received immediately from the international community.

“We are scraping the bottom of every barrel and stretching every dollar we have, but without immediate donations our emergency operations are going to grind to a halt,” Mr. Hansen said. “The cutbacks come at a time when the uncertain regional situation makes it ever-more imperative that we maintain a lifeline to the refugees in the territories. And yet the paradox is that our emergency funding for the year may be threatened because donors are holding back to see what is needed in Iraq.”

In December, UNRWA asked for $94 million to support its emergency programmes in the territories for the first six months of 2003. So far, no funds have been received and only a small portion of the Agency’s needs have been pledged.

The lack of donations has forced UNRWA to cut the size of the rations package it gives to 120,000 refugee families in Gaza, while in the West Bank, 1,600 emergency staff are to be laid off and payment for refugee hospitalization is being stopped.

Urgent humanitarian operations, including the re-housing of refugees made homeless by Israel’s military, will also have to be cancelled just as demolition operations are escalating. Supplies of food, tents and cash cannot continue unless donations are forthcoming.

Since September 2000, UNRWA has distributed over two million family food parcels, doubled the number of patients it treats in its clinics and provided work for thousands of Palestinian breadwinners – all in an effort to alleviate the worst effects of the violence, curfews and closures on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“The uncertainty on the political front in the West Bank and Gaza means that this is no time to allow humanitarian efforts to stall,” Mr. Hansen said. “The international community must not allow the occupied territory to slip from its sight. Tensions are too high and the need too great.”