UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

The UN Relief and Works Agency provides food assistance to 1 million people in Gaza every three months, which is half of the area’s population. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019
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UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

  • ‘Exceptional’ contributions enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion
  • ‘Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution’

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees on Monday urged donors who filled a $446 million hole in its budget last year after the Trump administration drastically cut the US contribution to be equally generous this year.
“Last year we had an extraordinary crisis and an out of the ordinary response,” Pierre Krahenbuhl said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Our humble request to all the donors is: Please keep your funding levels at the same level as 2018.”
He said he has been thanking donors for their “exceptional” contributions that enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion.
Krahenbuhl said the agency, known as UNRWA, also adopted a $1.2 billion budget for 2019, and this year it is getting nothing from the United States. Last year, the Trump administration gave $60 million, a dramatic reduction from the $360 million it provided in 2017, when the United States was the agency’s largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive US aid money — a comment that raised alarm from leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups, who protested that the administration’s link between aid and political objectives was “dangerous.”
Krahenbuhl said the campaign that UNRWA launched immediately after the US slashed its contribution succeeded as a result of “very important donations,” starting with the European Union, which became the agency’s biggest donor. He said 40 countries and institutions increased funding to UNRWA, including Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Australia. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait each gave $50 million, he said.
“Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution,” Krahenbuhl said.
Last year, he said, the number of multi-year funding agreements with donors rose to 19.
So UNRWA right now is in “a somewhat better position” than it was last year, with a shortfall of just over $200 million, Krahenbuhl said.
So far this year, the agency has received $245 million and is expecting $100 million more, he said, which means it should be financially OK until about May.
“But from then on we’ll start to ... reach some crisis points,” Krahenbuhl said.
He said UNRWA is thinking about holding some events in the next two or three months “to collectively mobilize the donor community.” In June, he said, there will be a pledging conference at which the UN and donors will take stock of the agency’s financial situation.
Krahenbuhl said he is committed to making up for the $60 million that UNRWA is losing from the United States this year through internal cost saving measures to reduce the agency’s expenditures.
“That’s going to hurt, but that’s where we feel our financial responsibility, so that we preserve the trust that was generated by the level of donors,” he said, noting that UNRWA last year saved $92 million.
Krahenbuhl said donors recognize the agency does important work. He pointed to the 280,000 boys and girls in UNRWA schools in Gaza and the food assistance the agency provides to 1 million people there every three months. “That’s half of Gaza’s population,” he said.
The UNRWA chief also said that continuing the agency’s services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere in the Mideast “is in everybody’s interest” and important for stability in the region.
“If you take Gaza right now ... it’s continuously at the razor’s edge,” Krahenbuhl said, stressing that any shift in humanitarian assistance or conditions that people live in “can trigger the need for justification, or the excuse ... to go back to war.”
Noting his own experience in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, Krahenbuhl said, “this is absolutely devastating and needs to be avoided.”


Key events in Egypt since the 2011 pro-democracy uprising

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. (Supplied)
Updated 21 April 2019
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Key events in Egypt since the 2011 pro-democracy uprising

CAIRO: Here are key events in eight years of turmoil and transition in Egypt, leading up to a national referendum on constitutional amendments that could allow President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to remain in power until 2030.

● Feb. 11, 2011: Autocrat Hosni Mubarak steps down after 18 days of nationwide protests against his nearly 30-year rule. The military takes over, dissolving Parliament and suspending the constitution after the uprising leaves hundreds of protesters dead in clashes with security forces.

● Nov. 28, 2011-Feb. 15, 2012: The Muslim Brotherhood wins nearly half the seats in multi-stage elections for the first post-Mubarak Parliament.

● June 30, 2012: The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Muhammad Mursi takes office as Egypt’s first freely elected president.

● Aug. 12, 2012: Mursi removes the defense minister and military chief, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and replaces him with El-Sisi.

● Nov. 22, 2012: Mursi unilaterally decrees greater powers for himself, a move that sparks days of protests.

● Dec. 15-22, 2012: Egyptians approve a constitution drafted and hastily passed by Parliament amid protests and walkouts by other groups.

● June 30, 2013: On Mursi’s anniversary in office, millions of Egyptians begin days of demonstrations demanding his resignation. The military gives him 48 hours to reach an agreement with his opponents, but he vows to remain in office.

● July 3, 2013: El-Sisi announces Mursi’s removal.

● Aug. 14, 2013: More than 600 people, mostly Mursi supporters, are killed when police clear two pro-Mursi sit-ins in Cairo. Mursi supporters retaliate by torching government buildings, churches and police stations. Hundreds more die in subsequent violence.

● Dec. 25, 2013: The government designates the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

● May 26-28, 2014: Egyptians vote in a presidential election. El-Sisi wins with 96.9 percent of the vote.

● May 16, 2015: Mursi and more than 100 others are sentenced
to death over a mass prison break during the 2011 uprising.

● Oct. 2015: Egypt holds parliamentary elections, leading to an assembly packed with El-Sisi supporters.

● April 2, 2018: El-Sisi wins a second, four-year term in office, with more than 97 percent of the vote.
● Feb. 2019: Lawmakers submit proposed amendments to the constitution that allow El-Sisi to remain in power beyond
his current second four-year term.

● April 10: President Donald Trump welcomes El-Sisi to the White House for a second official visit.

● April 17: The Parliament, packed with El-Sisi’s supporters, overwhelmingly passes the proposed amendments.

● April 18: Egypt’s National Election Authority schedules three days of voting in a nationwide referendum on the amendments. The vote takes place Saturday through Monday.