Cash-strapped UN refugee agency is forced to cut back Palestinian programmes

Flour sacks arrive at UNRWA’s food distribution centre, Beach Camp, Gaza Strip. UNRWA has been providing food aid for around 1 million people in the West Bank and Gaza for the much of the last three years. However reductions in donations to the Agency’s Emergency Appeal from donor nations means that UNRWA now provides only 30 per cent of the nutritional needs of vulnerable refugees in Gaza (Photo: UNRWA, 2003)

Though conditions for Palestinians worsen daily, the latest appeal for emergency funds for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has raised barely 45 per cent of the refugees’ needs, forcing programme cutbacks, the Agency’s said today.

In Gaza as a whole, “Israeli demolitions have left almost 12,700 homeless,” but funding shortages and difficulties sourcing land and transporting building materials meant that UNRWA has only been able to open only 228 replacement shelters, with another 250 in the pipeline, UNRWA said in a news release.

“The Agency estimates that it will cost over $46 million to re-house all the Palestinian refugees who have lost their homes to date - and every day more become homeless,” it said.

More than 60 per cent of the refugees are living on $2 a day, or less, while chronic and acute malnutrition among children reached 25 per cent in some areas. UNWRA is feeding more than 1 million refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, but the Agency has had to halve its food distribution.

In the first half of 2002, cash assistance to the very poorest people was cut to $950,000 from $3.4 million in the Gaza Strip and to $2,600 from $3.3 million in the West Bank, the Agency said.

“This has meant that the large number of destitute families were not given assistance for basic needs, such as fuel for cooking, or replacement household items for those families whose shelters were destroyed,” UNRWA said.