UNRWA shares hopes and fears for Gaza disengagement with donors and host authorities

UNRWA is planning to rebuild Palestinian homes in Gaza. (Arjan El Fassed)

AMMAN — The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is holding a two-day meeting with 27 of its major donors and host authorities to discuss the humanitarian assistance provided by the international community to the 4.2 million Palestinians scattered across the Middle East.

At the meeting UNRWA’s directors gave a major presentation on the Agency’s plans in the event of the removal of Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip. UNRWA is pre-positioning food stocks and other humanitarian supplies around the strip to allow it to cope with extended closures and possible conflict when the disengagement process starts in August. Several donor representatives at the meeting called on the Israeli authorities to ensure humanitarian access for relief agencies during the disengagement.

The Agency also outlined its plans to help alleviate poverty and develop the economy of the Gaza Strip following the departure of the settlers. In addition to repairing the damaged housing and infrastructure of the refugee camps in Gaza, UNRWA plans a major expansion of its job creation and vocational training programmes specifically to target unemployed young people in the strip.

However, UNRWA told donors that even large amounts of international aid would not help the two-thirds of Gaza that lives in abject poverty unless Palestinians were given much-improved access to the outside world. Karen Koning AbuZayd, UNRWA’s Acting Commissioner-General, said: “If borders open, if overseas links can be created and enterprise is allowed to flourish, then the disengagement has the potential to make a real difference to Palestinian lives. But if not, then the humanitarian situation will remain depressingly bleak.”

Donors also received a briefing on the implications for UNRWA and the refugees of the completion of the wall/fence in the West Bank and around Jerusalem. The Agency may be forced to move some of its field office operations out of Jerusalem because of the difficulty of getting staff in and out of the city. The future of refugee communities trapped between the wall/fence and the Green Line are also causing the Agency concerns.

Donors received a briefing on UNRWA’s regular budget for the next two years - which will be set at the level of around US$489 million for 2006 and US$506 million for 2007. The Agency is forecasting large increases in its budget to allow it to implement its Medium Term Plan (MTP) to improve refugee living conditions.

There were also discussions on the Agency’s health programme, its new approaches to poverty alleviation, camp redevelopment and on the ongoing implementation of recommendations from the major conference held in Geneva in June 2004.

In a briefing on the Agency’s financial situation, donors were told that current forecasts of income for 2005 see UNRWA receiving US$359 million, leaving the Agency with a potential deficit of US$27.1. They were told that UNRWA’s Emergency Appeal for Gaza and the West Bank has so far received pledges of US$84.5 million of the US$185.8 million requested.

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