UN Palestinian agency faces 'existential crisis'

Palestinian children hold bread patties during a protest against aid cuts, outside the United Nations’ offices in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip in this file photo.(AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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UN Palestinian agency faces 'existential crisis'

UNITED NATIONS:One month after the Trump administration announced a drastic funding cut to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, only one country, Kuwait, has stepped forward to offer additional funding, senior UNRWA officials said Friday.
The United States announced in January that it would give $60 million to UNRWA - a fraction of the more than $350 million annual contribution that it has provided to the agency's budget.
Kuwait stepped in to contribute $900,000 and about 15 donor countries including Sweden and Japan decided to speed up their donations to keep UNRWA afloat, said Peter Mulrean, UNRWA's representative in New York.
But Mulrean told reporters at UN headquarters that the agency was facing an "existential financial crisis" as it seeks to fill the gap from the US funding cut.
The United States is the biggest single donor to UNRWA which provides schools and health clinics to 5.3 million refugees in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley last month said the United States would not provide aid to the Palestinians until they agree "to come back to the negotiation table" and reach a peace deal with Israel.
"The US has not yet explained to us the rationale behind its decision on the $60 million," Mulrean said, adding that Washington had not presented any concerns about reforms.
In an interview to Voice of America, Haley said UNRWA needed to be reformed, because they consider "any Palestinian as a refugee" and "what they're teaching in schools is not necessarily the right way to have things run."
UNRWA has been repeatedly accused of promoting anti-Israel sentiment in schools, a charge it has flatly rejected.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will attend a ministerial-level donors' conference for UNRWA to be held next month in Geneva to fill the gap in funding, but it remains unclear if the United States will attend.
UNRWA's director for the West Bank, Scott Andersen, said all of the agency's services remain up and running for the time being, but that the decision had left many Palestinians anxious.
"People are frightened and concerned about what this means for them, their families and their future," he said.


Morocco inaugurates Africa’s fastest train

Updated 15 November 2018
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Morocco inaugurates Africa’s fastest train

  • King Mohammed VI and French President Emmanuel Macron boarded the train for the inaugural trip from Tangier to the capital Rabat
  • The high-speed line was completed at a total cost of 22.9 billion dirhams ($2.4 billion)

RABAT: Morocco inaugurated on Thursday Africa’s fastest train which will halve traveling time between the commercial and industrial hubs of Casablanca and Tangier.
After seven years of work on the high-speed railway line, King Mohammed VI and French President Emmanuel Macron boarded the train for the inaugural trip from Tangier to the capital Rabat.
The train, which was tested at a speed of 357 km (222 miles)per hour and is planned to run at 320 km (198 miles) per hour, will more than halve the 200 km (124 miles)Casablanca-Tangier journey to around two hours. It is about twice as fast as South Africa’s high-speed Gautrain linking Johannesburg’s international airport to the city’s financial district Sandton.

The high-speed line was completed at a total cost of 22.9 billion dirhams ($2.4 billion), according to state news agency MAP. Transport officials were not immediately available for comment. 51 percent of the project was financed by France, Morocco contributed 28 percent and the remaining 21 percent was provided by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. 
Morocco bought 12 double-decker high-speed-trains from French group Alstom that will be operated by state-owned railway ONCF which expects six million passengers on the new train service annually.
The king named the first line Al Boraq after a mythical winged creature that transported the prophets to the heavens. While the Moroccan government and businesses praised the project as a key achievement in developing the country's infrastructure, the line has sparked controversy for its high cost. Critics say that Morocco should be investing in education and health instead.

Officials have said the project will boost growth in Tangier and help attract more investments to northern Morocco where one of Africa’s largest ports is located.
But critics perceive the project as symbolising a two-speed Morocco further accentuating disparities between territories as vast regions in the south and key cities such as Agadir remain without a basic train service.
A train derailment last month near Kenitra 15 km (10 miles) north of Rabat, which killed seven people and injured 125 others, triggered calls for a better allocation of resources by giving priority to improving safety and infrastructure as well as punctuality of basic railway services.