Facing its most severe financial crisis ever, the United Nations agency tasked with assisting Palestine refugees throughout the Middle East has today convened an emergency session to weigh the growing risk that it may be forced to delay the start of the academic year in some 700 schools for half a million students across the region.
In a press release announcing an emergency meeting of its Advisory Commission, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said that it may be forced to take drastic measures unless the deficit of $101 million can be fully funded before the school year is due to start.
The session is taking place in Jordan and brings together UNRWA's leading donors and host governments.
As things currently stand, UNRWA has enough money to maintain its services essential to protect public health which include immunizations for children, primary health care, relief and sanitation and some emergency programmes through to the end of 2015, but the funding is insufficient to guarantee the stable provision of its education services from September onwards.
Expressing “alarm” over the situation and the possible delay in the start of the school year, the agency said such a decision would generate much anxiety and despair for hundreds of thousands of boys and girls in the region.
“Education lies at the very heart of the identity and dignity of Palestine refugees and of what UNRWA stands for,” said the press release, adding that the agency's schools also provide a measure of stability in a very unstable region. Possible delays in opening the school year would also have grave implications for host governments, according to UNRWA.
The extraordinary Advisory Commission session will be discussing a special report to be sent by the UNRWA Commissioner-General to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and on to all 193 members of the UN General Assembly.
The report sets out the implications of UNRWA's $101 million deficit for 2015, the measures the agency has taken to reduce costs and the strenuous efforts to seek the necessary funds. It also outlines urgent steps that could be taken to put UNRWA on a firm financial footing going forward.
The agency calls on all donors, partners and UN Member States to actively step forward with critical funding to allow the school year to begin without interruption and to preserve the historic investment in human development of Palestine refugees, recognized as one the most successful processes of its kind in the Middle-East. Ensuring the continued provision of education is a matter of dignity, rights and regional stability.
UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, and financial support has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees and deepening poverty.
As a result, the UNRWA General Fund, which supports core essential services and most staffing costs, operates with a large deficit. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large deficits, are funded through separate funding portals.