UN agency: We’ll continue to serve 5.3m Palestinian refugees

Director of UNRWA Operations in Jordan Roger Davies stands in his office next to a mosaic. (Photo/UNRWA)
Updated 25 February 2018
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UN agency: We’ll continue to serve 5.3m Palestinian refugees

AMMAN: A senior official of the UN agency that has served Palestinian refugees since 1949 has rejected any hint of change in UNRWA’s mandate, saying it can’t be altered “except by a majority decision of the UN General Assembly.”
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Roger Davies, the field director of UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency) in Jordan, said: “We often hear that UNRWA will change and that its services will be carried out by (the UN refugee agency) UNHCR, I hear that everywhere. I understand that, but I assure everyone that we work on the basis of a clear mandate and only the UN General Assembly can change our mandate and not member countries.”
Davies said that UNRWA is a temporary agency and since its formation in 1949, it has had to renew its mandate every three years. In the most recent decision,167 countries renewed UNRWA’s mandate. The current mandate is valid until the next vote in June 2020.
Davies, a UK national, told Arab News that the agency is trying its best to meet all its obligations despite the recent cut in funding by the US. “We are not focusing on what we will stop. We will continue to serve the 5.3 million Palestinian refugees. We have a UN mandate and member states have an obligation to find the needed funds to help us carry out this mandate.”
The Jan. 16 US decision to hold back $65 million of the agreed $125 million was a break of the Trump administration’s commitment. The US decision came after the close of a year in which the agency was already $49 million short, thus causing a big cashflow problem.
“Every year the Americans have come through with the biggest support in cash and advocacy. So when that is not there, we have lost a lot,” said Davies.
The UNRWA official said that 11 countries have come through with advancing the agency committed monies that were supposed to be paid at a later stage to help the agency to address its operational commitments.
“We have an annual operating budget of $760 million which goes to pay doctors and teachers and other operating costs. On top of that we have requests for construction of schools and a separate emergency appeals for the occupied territories and for Palestinian refugees caught up in the Syrian crisis who have to flee to Jordan and Lebanon. The construction and emergency appeals come up to another $800 million.”
While the Arab League has committed to support 7.8 percent of the annual UNRWA operating budget, Davies says that last year Arab countries contributed only 3.5 percent, even though Saudi Arabia has made large contributions to the construction, development, and emergency funds, making it overall the third largest contributor to UNRWA.
As for the American contributions, Davies said he doesn’t know what they want to do. “We are a humanitarian organization and we have to ask everyone to help us, and we realize and it is the sovereign right of every donor to decide how much to contribute.”
Since the negative US decision, UNRWA has launched a “dignity is priceless” global campaign and will be convening a major fundraising event soon. Davies says the agency will focus on trying to secure support from the World Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and others, especially in Asia and among member states in the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). “We have been accredited to receive zakat donations and are pursuing OIC countries which made a specific recommendation to support UNRWA.”
The director of Jordan field operations says that even though 2.2 million out of the overall 5.3 million Palestinian refugees live in Jordan, the agency spends only 20 percent of its budget in Jordan. As a result of the recent US decisions, Davies told Arab News, the agency had to let go more than 100 sanitation workers who were employed on a contract basis.
Davies says sanitation is the biggest challenge in Baqaa, Jordan’s largest camp, and the people have noticed that. “We collect every day, but we can’t cover big areas.”
Davies told Arab News that to address this problem the UN agency has had to make “arrangements with the local refugee community, encourage volunteering and initiate an awareness campaign to convince refugees to use the containers and not to throw garbage in the streets.”


UN rushes aid to hunger-stricken Yemeni district

Updated 6 min 31 sec ago
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UN rushes aid to hunger-stricken Yemeni district

  • The aid push was directed at a district called Aslam where earlier this month some families were found eating leaves to survive
  • Getting relief to those in need has been complicated because international agencies are required to work from lists that are often compiled by local Houthi authorities
CAIRO: The UN and individual donors are rushing food to a desperate corner of northern Yemen where starving villagers were found to be living off leaves. Aid officials are searching for ways to ensure aid reaches those in need amid alarm that the country’s hunger crisis is worsening beyond the relief effort’s already strained capabilities.
The aid push was directed at a district called Aslam where earlier this month The Associated Press found some families eating leaves. But in a sign of the difficulties in tracking Yemen’s near-famine, conditions appeared to be as bad or worse in a neighboring district, Khayran Al-Maharraq.
On a recent day, Shouib Sakaf buried his 3-year-old daughter, Zaifa, the fifth child known to have died in the district this year from malnutrition-related illness. Sakaf prayed over a grave marked by piles of stones and tangled, dry branches from the surrounding mountain shrubs.
Zaifa was as old as Yemen’s civil war, waged between rebels known as Houthis and a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Born in the war’s early days, Zaifa succumbed to the humanitarian crisis it has caused — widespread hunger, the collapse of the economy and the breakdown of the health system. In her final weeks, she wasted away, her ribs protruding, her face and feet swollen. At a local medical facility which did not have enough supplies, her father was told she had to be taken to a hospital further away to treat kidney complications. He had no way to pay for transportation there.
“Death came at 2:30 p.m.,” Sakaf said with a deep sigh. “Then we left.”
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock issued a dire warning to the Security Council on Friday, ahead of the world body’s General Assembly, saying, “We are losing the fight against famine” in Yemen.
“We may now be approaching a tipping point, beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country,” he said. “We are already seeing pockets of famine-like conditions, including cases where people are eating leaves.”
Across Yemen, around 2.9 million women and children are acutely malnourished; another 400,000 children are fighting for their lives, in the same condition as Zaifa was. This year, the UN and humanitarian groups provided assistance to more than 8 million of the most vulnerable Yemenis who don’t know when their next meal will come. That is a dramatic expansion from 2017, when food was reaching 3 million people a month in the country of nearly 29 million.
Lowcock spoke after the AP alerted UN relief officials to the villagers in Aslam district, an isolated area in Hajjah province.
After the AP report, activists launched an online campaign called: “Rescue Aslam” with bank account details to collect donations. Some 30 food baskets financed by individual donors were distributed over the past days.
The UN’s World Food Program carried out an investigation in Aslam and found that aid hasn’t been reaching all targeted beneficiaries. It has since sent trucks carrying 10,000 food packages to the district, each meant to feed one family for a month. Distribution of the aid is still pending the finalization of registration lists.
Getting relief to those in need has been complicated because international agencies are required to work from lists that are often compiled by local Houthi authorities. Critics accuse those authorities of favoritism in putting together the lists.
Stephen Anderson, the director of the WFP, said there is a “retargeting exercise” underway to make sure that “the poorest and hungriest and most marginalized people, wherever they are, are targeted first.”
The agency is introducing a biometric registration to establish a database of beneficiaries, including their finger prints to avoid forgery and duplications.
Anderson said the system “will help give us an assurance” that situations like those in Hajjah are prevented or at least minimized.
A senior relief official said local authorities have resisted implementing biometric registration and the main Houthi-run aid body, known by the acronym NAMCHA, has sought to do registration and control the database. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of problems with authorities.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis, an Iranian-backed Shiite movement that toppled the internationally recognized government.
The conflict has left more than 10,000 civilians dead, driven millions from their homes and sparked a cholera epidemic.