Budget woes ‘costly distraction,’ Ban says, urging reliable funding for UN Palestine refugee agency

4 May 2016

A consequence of failing to fund the activities of the United Nations agency tasked with ensuring the wellbeing of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East would be an increased risk of extremism, more poverty, and a region even more riven by conflict, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today, urging donors to step up their financial support.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) faces a deficit of $81 million. UNRWA and its 30,000 staff provide vital human development and emergency relief services to 5.2 million Palestine refugees across the Middle East, and operate 700 schools, serving 500,000 children.

“The budget uncertainties are a costly distraction,” the UN chief said at a special meeting on the sustainability of UNRWA, noting that those uncertainties play with the fate of people who are already living on the edge, and add a needless extra layer of suffering and anguish.

Stressing the need to put the agency on a sustainable footing, Mr. Ban said that sustainability means, in practical terms, that Palestine refugees never having to question whether UNRWA schools would be open, or never doubting whether crucial medical services would be available, or the food would be on the table for dinner.

“Let us never forget the human consequences if we let Palestine refugees down: more young people driven into despair; an increased risk of extremism; more poverty, loss of hope and dignity and a Middle East region even more riven by conflict,” he said.

Recalling his visit to Gaza shortly after the end of the devastating conflict in the summer of 2014, Mr. Ban said he saw first-hand how UNRWA’s 252 schools went from providing quality education to 240,000 children, to offering sanctuary to 300,000 displaced in Gaza.

Soon after hostilities ceased, UNRWA schools were remarkably up and running with barely a delay to the academic year, he said.

UNRWA has been a pioneer in providing education in emergencies, a key theme of the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit, and has developed innovative distance learning techniques for Palestine refugee girls and boys.

Pierre Krähenbühl, head of UNRWA, told reporters yesterday that ensuring Palestinian youth receive an education is comparable to “a global public good.”

Head of UN Palestine refugee agency on funding deficit. Credit: UN News Centre

Mr. Krähenbühl said that the potential delay of the 2015 school year due to financial shortfalls was an emotional experience for Palestinian students and their parents. “What has to be understood in terms of the value of education for young Palestinian boys and girls is simply that it is the very foundation on which rests their hope for improved circumstances; for an ability to contribute meaningfully in their lives as they move ahead,” he said.

“So, this is why we see it almost, as was expressed by one of our donors, as a global public good, the need to preserve the education that is provided by UNRWA to this young generation of Palestinians.”

In an earlier interview with UN Radio, he explained that the agency does not have resources of its own, and depends on voluntary contributions from donors and partners.

“There is no humanitarian organization that is perfectly funded,” he said. “But in UNRWA's case, the problem is that we have certain services that are almost like a Government, in terms of education and health care. We cannot say next year to the Palestinian children that we’re reducing the number of children in our schools from 500,000 to 400,000. That’s just not an option.”


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