Twenty-two international donors today pledged over $160 million to support the main United Nations agency providing vital humanitarian aid to some 4.5 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
The pledges to the 2008 budget of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) came during a meeting in New York of the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary Contributions.
UNRWA’s total budget for 2008-2009 is $1.21 billion – down slightly from $1.28 billion for the current biennium, UNRWA Deputy Commission-General Filippo Grandi told the meeting. He said that while many refugees had taken great strides towards self-reliance and personal success, deep pockets of entrenched deprivation among them remained to be tackled throughout the Agency’s operational areas.
He added that next week, the UN would issue its consolidated appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory, of which UNRWA would be an integral part, amounting to about $235 million. A few days later, the UN would also participate in the Paris Donors Conference aimed at supporting the Palestinian Authority and restarting development activities.
Also addressing today’s meeting, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said the forthcoming Paris Conference would provide an important opportunity to help rebuild Palestinian institutions, boost economic growth and lay the foundations for a viable Palestinian State.
At the same time, the needs of Palestinian refugees should not be neglected, he said, noting that UNRWA presently faced heavy challenges on all sides, with demands for its increasingly complex services growing steadily.
According to the UN’s latest humanitarian fact sheet on Gaza, roughly 75 per cent of Gaza’s population receives food aid. But while regular humanitarian aid is continuing, import restrictions have led to the suspension of more than $200 million worth of programming, including shelter and housing projects for 27,000 refugees and construction at three major hospitals.
The fact sheet also shows that the unemployment rate in Gaza has soared past 32 per cent. At the same time, food prices have shot up with the price of wheat flour, for example, having gone up by 46 per cent.
The latest figures underscore the vital work carried out by UNRWA, which is not only a humanitarian organization but also the main provider of essential public services to the Palestinian refugee population.