The head of the United Nations agency tasked with supporting Palestinian refugees has urged the international community to bridge a $103 million budget deficit, saying any further funding shortfall would continue to undermine its ability to provide services to those in need.
“Without more generous funding, UNRWA [UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] will continue to be limited in its capacity to adequately pay its existing staff – the teachers, doctors, sanitation labourers, relief workers and others,” Filippo Grandi, UNRWA Commissioner-General, told a meeting of the agency’s Advisory Commission in Cairo yesterday.
“I warn you that the financial shortfall will also severely curtail the ability of UNRWA to carry out important activities such as participating in the reconstruction of Gaza, should the blockade be lifted. Schools and health centres might be built through contributions to individual projects, but UNRWA will lack the funds to manage them, and to train and even pay the personnel to staff them,” Mr. Grandi added.
He said he was aware of some donors’ concern that, given the impact of the global financial crisis on UNRWA’s funding, the agency should make even further efforts to streamline expenditure and maximize cost-efficiencies.
However, Mr. Grandi said, the agency has been cutting services. For example, it has stopped paying the costs of hospital treatment for refugees, even when the services they need are as essential as breast cancer screening, physiotherapy or psychiatric treatment.
“In Gaza alone, UNRWA’s overcrowded schools have no place for nearly 40,000 additional refugee children,” Mr. Grandi said, adding that the agency had even reduced the number of school textbooks, and had suspended the implementation of initiatives designed to support children with special learning needs, including those with disabilities.
“We are reducing the support we provide to refugees hardest hit by poverty and social marginalization. We have cancelled expenditure on maintenance of UNRWA facilities and buildings seriously affecting safety standards and the quality of our services,” Mr. Grandi said.
He said that UNRWA will continue to ensure rigorously prudent financial management, effective programme management and the full application of relevant accountability mechanisms, and made an impassioned plea for more generous funding for the agency.
“UNRWA’s financial situation is grave, yet it is within our collective power to resolve. And if it is a crisis, as it no doubt is, then it is a crisis we must confront and solve by coming together, pooling our strengths and boldly rising to the challenges of now and the future,” Mr. Grandi added.
Meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reiterated the need for Israel to make a fundamental change to its policy of maintaining a blockade against the Gaza Strip.
At a meeting with Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak in New York yesterday, the Secretary-General called for “prompt and positive response” to his proposal for an international panel to probe the 31 May incident in which Israeli soldiers raided a flotilla of boats carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza. The raid resulted in the death of nine civilians aboard the ships.
Mr. Ban also repeated his call for the unconditional release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who remains in detention in Gaza.
The UN and its Quartet partners – European Union, Russia and United States – have welcomed Israel’s decision to allow more civilian goods into Gaza, saying that implementation of the new policy will help meet the needs of the territory’s inhabitants and address Israel’s security concerns.