UN Palestinian refugee agency operating on ‘month-to-month’ basis due to US aid cuts

Palestinian employees at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) prepare food aid rations. (File/Mahmud Hams/AFP)
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Updated 06 May 2020

UN Palestinian refugee agency operating on ‘month-to-month’ basis due to US aid cuts

  • In 2018 President Donald Trump’s administration halted annual payments of $360 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)
  • Many refugees fear the dwindling aid they receive could fall further as the coronavirus crisis persists and donors shift priorities

JERUSALEM: Scrambling to tackle COVID-19 in camps across the Middle East, the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees said on Tuesday it only has enough cash to operate until the end of May because of American funding cuts.
In 2018 President Donald Trump’s administration halted annual payments of $360 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides assistance to some 5.5 million registered refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Elizabeth Campbell, UNRWA’s director in Washington, told reporters that the loss of US aid had a “corrosive impact” on the agency’s ability to help vulnerable people.
“We are basically operating on a month-to-month basis. Right now, we have funding to pay our 30,000 health care workers until the end of this month,” Campbell said in a Zoom conference call from Washington.
She said UNRWA had only secured a third of its $1.2 billion annual budget and that it was suffering its “worst financial crisis” since beginning operations some 70 years ago.
The agency is trying to plug the $800 million shortfall in part by appealing to European and Gulf countries for emergency donations, Campbell said.
Donations from the European Union, Britain, Germany, Sweden, Canada and Japan have helped fill UNRWA’s 2020 budget gap, Campbell said, while Saudi Arabia has also provided project-specific funding.
The United States was by far UNRWA’s biggest donor until it withdrew funding, calling for reforms and suggesting its services be transferred to refugee host countries.
Palestinian refugees are mostly descendants of some 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled amid fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation. Nearly a third live in 58 camps where UNRWA provides services.
Many refugees fear the dwindling aid they receive could fall further as the coronavirus crisis persists and donors shift priorities.
UNRWA has tried to halt the spread of COVID-19 in and around camps, closing all its 276 schools that are attended by close to 300,000 children.
It has launched a $14 million emergency appeal for coronavirus funding, and says it will issue another, larger, aid request in the coming days.


Coronavirus claims over 20,000 lives across Mideast, half in Iran

Updated 51 min 44 sec ago

Coronavirus claims over 20,000 lives across Mideast, half in Iran

  • 907,736 reported infections and 20,005 deaths from the COVID-19
  • Iran has been struggling to contain the outbreak since announcing its first cases

PARIS: The novel coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 20,000 people across the Middle East, half of them in Iran, according to an AFP tally at 1000 GMT Sunday based on official tolls.
But despite having 907,736 reported infections and 20,005 deaths from the COVID-19 illness, the Middle East has been relatively lightly hit by the virus which has killed over half a million people across the globe.
Iran, which has been struggling to contain the outbreak since announcing its first cases in February, has reported more than 12,829 deaths and 257,303 infections, according to Sunday’s official figures.
With a population of more than 80 million, Iran is the 9th worst-affected country in the world and has seen the region’s deadliest outbreak.
Infections in the Islamic republic have been on the rise since early May, prompting authorities to make wearing masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces.
On Sunday the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the resurgence “truly tragic” and urged all citizens to help rein it in.
In the region covered by Iran in the north and east, Israel in the west and Yemen in the south, the other worst-hit countries are Iraq and neighboring Kuwait, as well as Saudi Arabia and war-torn Yemen.
Iraq is the second-most affected nation in the Middle East with 3,055 deaths and 75,194 infections, followed by Saudi Arabia with 2,181 deaths and 229,480 infections.
Yemen, one of the world’s poorest nations, has recorded 464 deaths and 1,380 infections, while Kuwait has confirmed 386 deaths and 54,058 infections.
Iran also ranks as the region’s worst-affect country on a per-capita basis, with 153 deaths per million — 25th worldwide — followed by Kuwait with 90 deaths per million and Saudi Arabia with 63.
According to the AFP tally, the average number of deaths in the region is 43 per million inhabitants, against a global average of around 70.
The Middle East represents around 3.5 percent of all global deaths, far behind Europe (one third), North America (one quarter) and Latin America and the Caribbean (one quarter).