Twenty countries pledged approximately $73.5 million for the 2006 budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), during a meeting this morning of the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary Contributions.
As he opened the meeting, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson ( Sweden) said the international community had spent 56 years seeking a lasting solution to the Palestine refugee situation and remained morally obliged to sustain that commitment. Indeed, the refugee population doubled every 20 years and had increased 500 per cent since UNWRA had begun its work. Meanwhile, the Assembly had an important role to play as “parent” to the Agency, which was the only United Nations programme that was a direct subsidiary of the General Assembly.
Praising UNRWA’s 25,000 staff for their dedication in providing education, health, relief and social services to more than 4 million Palestine refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, often under difficult circumstances, he urged Member States to ensure that the Agency’s regular budget of $995 million for 2006-2007, and its project budget of $286 million, were fully funded. For 2006 alone, UNRWA required $488 million to maintain its core programme services.
Elaborating further on that topic, UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd said that the amount needed for the Agency’s 2006 operations was $90 million higher than the previous year’s requirement due to the change from a “finance-constrained” to a “needs-based” approach in drawing up the budget, which had been done in consultation with stakeholders at the Geneva Conference of 2004. Among the largest increases in the budget were provisions for the long-postponed maintenance and equipping of 900 “installations”, new construction, as well as medical and food supplies. Provisions had also been made for the improvement of conditions for area staff, who, by a wide margin, received the lowest pay of local United Nations personnel in the region. With a fifth generation of refugees relying on the Agency’s services, it was more necessary than ever to ensure the continuation of those services.
The UNRWA currently provided non-emergency food aid to 250,000 refugees living in poverty, and supported 30,000 refugees with disabilities, she said. In addition, the Agency’s microfinance programme had disbursed almost $100 million in loans since its establishment in 1991 and would hopefully continue to stimulate local economic development. Almost 500,000 pupils — half of them female — were enrolled in UNWRA schools, while its clinics handled almost 9 million patient visits in 2004.
She said that, with the help of a stakeholder-relations working group, the Agency had succeeded in strengthening its engagement with the international community, receiving substantive recommendations on programme activities and budget preparation. A Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) decision adopted on 14 November had expanded UNRWA’s Advisory Commission to include 11 Member States whose contributions over the past three years had averaged a minimum of $5 million per year. That decision also invited Palestine, the European Commission and the Arab League to attend and participate fully in the Commission’s work.
Last month, UNRWA had also held its first Hosts and Donors Meeting in Jordan, which had been attended by 64 Governments, host authorities and several non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies, she said. The Agency had cooperated with James Wolfensohn, the Quarter’s Special Envoy for Disengagement, to develop Gaza-focused rapid action plans in job creation, microfinance and reconstruction of demolished shelters. Discussions were also under way to strengthen internal policymaking and decision-making processes, as well as to develop more structured internal communication channels and follow-up mechanisms.
The representatives of Sweden, Turkey, Denmark, New Zealand, Bahrain, Kuwait, China, Ireland, India, Netherlands, France, Greece, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Lebanon, Republic of Korea and Portugal made pledges during the meeting.
Also making a pledge was the observer for the Holy See.
The representative of Japan said his Government would make a pledge at a later date.
Closing the meeting, the observer for Palestine thanked Member States for their contributions, saying that such support helped ensure the continuity of much-needed services in light of UNRWA’s ongoing financial difficulties. It was important for the international community to reaffirm its political commitment, particularly the implementation of General Assembly resolution 194.