UN agency helping Palestinians says much better financial support needed

Although 60 per cent of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza fall below the poverty line, aid programmes have had to be cut back drastically because of the low response to appeals for donations, the chief of the main United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees said today.

Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), told a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York that despite a 25 per cent malnutrition rate in Gaza and a rate almost as high in the West Bank, the Agency had had to cut back on food distribution.

With 12,700 people made homeless by Israeli demolitions of housing in response to the current intifada, UNRWA had only been able to replace 228 homes, he said. For health care, UNRWA had provided only $750,000 in aid out of a projected $2.7 million in needs.

Meanwhile, the separation barrier Israel was building had cut farmers off from their harvests and had isolated some towns, he said, and the total effect could be a further downward spiral in West Bank conditions.

He said the Agency had had a better response to its appeals than other similar programmes and he had found a great deal of support for UNRWA’s activities when he presented his report to the General Assembly’s Special Political and Decolonization Committee yesterday.

Unless that support was translated into solid financial backing, however, the Agency would “fall further behind in its efforts to lessen the pain of the effects of violence” on the Palestinian refugees in the region, Mr. Hansen said.