UN agency faces $120 million shortfall for emergency aid to Palestinians

Palestinian refugee in what is left from her home destroyed by Israeli forces in Jabalia refugee camp. (PCHR)

The United Nations relief agency assisting Palestinians faces a $120 million shortfall for its emergency operations this year in Gaza and the West Bank, donor countries were told today.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said only $89.4 million has been pledged for its $209.4 million Emergency Appeal for Gaza and the West Bank. The Agency’s regular budget will also face a $7.3 million deficit by the end of 2004.

The directors of UNRWA’s main programmes – which provide education, health, relief and social services, micro-credit and camp development to the refugees – also presented to the two-day meeting of 26 major donor countries plans for upgrading the Agency’s services over the next three to five years.

Suffering in the occupied territory is increasing as refugees endure the escalating conflict and the difficulties faced by UNRWA in trying to deliver humanitarian services. Agency officials noted that UNRWA has only recently been able to deliver food to aid to 600,000 refugees that should have been distributed in June. The delay was caused by Israeli security procedures at the crossings into and out of the strip.

Many donors called for Israel to comply fully with its obligations under international humanitarian law and allow UNRWA full and unrestricted access for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The European Commission announced a pledge of €20 million (euros) for Gaza and The Netherlands announced it would donate an additional €3 million to the Emergency Appeal, totalling around $27.6 million of assistance to the Palestine refugees.

Donor representatives paid tribute to the Agency’s employees, who face considerable risks in the occupied territory. Just last Sunday, UNRWA teacher Maher Mahmoud Zakout was killed on his way to work during the ongoing Israeli incursion into northern Gaza. In total, 11 UNRWA employees have now been killed in the course of the present conflict.

Referring to recent allegations made against Agency staff by the Israeli authorities, UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen called for an end to false accusations. “It is in the interests of both the refugees and Israel for UNRWA and Israeli authorities to have a mutually respectful relationship,” he said.

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