UN agency caring for Palestinian refugees launches $246-million emergency appeal

UN agency caring for Palestinian refugees launches $246-million emergency appeal

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Citing a dramatically deepening humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory, the United Nations agency that cares for millions of Palestinian refugees today launched a $246-million emergency appeal for 2007, its largest since its first flash appeal in 2000, for food aid, job creation, emergency cash help and increased health service needs.

“Unbearable economic pressure has been applied to a people under occupation. UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Deputy Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi told the second annual meeting of UNRWA host authorities and donor governments in Amman, Jordan. “Those who have clearly paid the greatest price are the vulnerable – the poor, the sick, the elderly, the children.”

Living conditions in Gaza and the West Bank have slumped to levels unseen in 40 years with every aspect of life affected, UNRWA said.

The crisis that began with the Palestinian uprising of 2000 has deepened dramatically during 2006, due to the international isolation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) after the election victory of Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist. It has been compounded by Israel’s siege of Gaza and the ongoing fragmentation of the West Bank.

The majority of Palestinians are now dependent on food and cash handouts. Violence, poverty and despair are overtaking hopes for recovery and prospects for development.

Refugees, who before 2006 endured high poverty rates and desperate socio-economic

conditions, have been particularly affected, due to their disproportionate dependence on PA salaries and concentration in Gaza.

Last week, 12 UN agencies and 14 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the occupied territory sought a record $453.6 million for 2007 to address the rapidly deteriorating situation after donors cut off funds following Hamas’ election victory.

Israel stopped handing over tax and customs revenues it collects on behalf of the PA, and international donors suspended direct aid, calling on Hamas to commit to non-violence, recognize Israel and accept previously signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

There are some 3.5 million Palestinians living in the occupied territories. UNRWA tends to the needs of some 4.3 million refugees in the territories and neighbouring countries.