UN relief agency actively seeking new ways to continue to support Palestinian refugees

Short Url
Updated 13 May 2022

UN relief agency actively seeking new ways to continue to support Palestinian refugees

UN relief agency actively seeking new ways to continue to support Palestinian refugees
  • UNRWA will remain committed to its task until there is a just solution to the conflict and the plight of the refugees, the acting director of its Washington office told The Ray Hanania Radio Show
  • ‘We get to points in the year where we are living month-to-month and even week-to-week. That is no way to help Palestinian refugees and no way for our 30,000 staff to live,’ said Bill Deere

CHICAGO: Bill Deere, the acting director of the Washington office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said on Wednesday that all options and ideas are being explored as part of efforts to strengthen and sustain support for the nearly 6 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants forced from their homes during the 1947 and 1967 wars.

On April 23, Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of the UNRWA, suggested that other UN Agencies could be enlisted to help support the agency’s mandate.

He acknowledged that over the years “resources available to UNRWA have stagnated, while the needs of Palestinian refugees and cost of operations keep increasing.” He said it would "not be reasonable” for the agency to remain dependent “almost exclusively on voluntary funding from donors.”

Deere, who was appearing on The Ray Hanania Radio Show, which is sponsored by Arab News and broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network, said that despite the financial challenges, UNRWA is committed to providing support until the long-term status of the refugees is determined through a just and lasting solution to the conflict.

He acknowledged that Lazzarini’s comments had prompted some to mistakenly believe he was suggesting that the UNRWA be disbanded. But Deere said the idea of using existing UN support agencies to assist in delivering the broad range of services UNRWA now provides to Palestinian refugees could be a solution to the agency’s funding challenges. 

“It is an idea from a very innovative leader who is trying to get us out of this seeming loop that we live in,” he said. “We get to points in the year where we are living month-to-month and even week-to-week. That is no way to help Palestinian refugees and no way for our 30,000 staff to live.”

In 2018, in the hope of forcing the Palestinians to accept a peace agreement unilaterally dictated by Israel, President Donald Trump halted all funding to help Palestinians, including donations to the UNRWA.

“The previous (Trump) administration terminated all humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people; they weren’t just singling out UNRWA,” Deere said. “And to my knowledge this was the only group of people in the world the US denied humanitarian assistance to.

“Under the Biden administration, they restored support for the agency. Last year we received about $339 million from the US, a little below the all-time high of $360 million (in 2017). But it is an effective and good partnership that we have with the United States.”

The UNRWA is funded mostly through voluntary contributions from governments and the US is the biggest donor, Deere said. The agency’s mandate is renewed by the General Assembly every three years and its programs evaluated annually by UN member nations.

The “steady decline” in funding for UNRWA services has forced the agency to tap into reserves and implement austerity measures, according to Deere. In 2021, he said, the agency had a $60 million deficit. The previous year, the deficit was $72 million.

“This year, UNRWA faces a year-end funding gap in the range of $100 million, although the number is constantly in flux and will be discussed at a donor conference in June,” Deere added.

“We are certainly not stopping our traditional fundraising or walking away from our mandate — to be clear, we are not walking away from the mandate. UNRWA is not walking away from Palestinian refugees.”

There are concerns about the future, he admitted, and the agency is looking at “long-term alternative solutions” to address the funding challenges. But despite this it continues to provide exemplary services to refugees and their descendants, he added.

“The UNHCR and the World Bank put out a study last year; basically, UNRWA is the gold standard in Refugee education,” Deere said.

“Not only are our kids about a year ahead of host-country schools, we do it in an incredibly cost-effective manner. The British Council presented approximately 60 awards to various schools of ours as we are successfully preparing students to be responsible global citizens.”

He also highlighted the successful response by the agency to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Nowhere was the agency on better display of what it does than during the COVID pandemic,” Deere said. “It was something we can be incredibly proud of, how quickly this organization pivoted within days to deal with this kind of new reality and a situation made worse by the fact that Palestine refugee camps are among the most densely populated in the world.

“But within days, we shifted to tele-medicine. Our health clinics became COVID triage centers. We began home deliveries of food and medicine. We provided food assistance to more than 1 million people in Gaza alone.

“Our teachers began producing materials for remote learning. In fact, we put out material to help parents deal with remote learning. Last year, we unveiled what we call a digital-learning platform and that is going to become the backbone of UNRWA education going forward, as not just the UNRWA but the world moves forward in asynchronous learning. There is really a lot to be proud of in working for this organization.”

UNRWA provides services to refugees in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Deere said about 5.7 million Palestinians are eligible, although only about 3 million actively seek the agency’s support.

It is a direct-service provider and all work is supervised by a staff of about 30,000 people, most of them Palestinian refugees themselves. The UNRWA’s 700 schools emphasize human rights, conflict resolution, tolerance and gender equity, Deere said. The agency has helped create 700,000 jobs in the region through a loan-equity program, he added, with an emphasis on promoting self-reliance among female refugees. It also provides healthcare services that receive more than 8.5 million patient visits a year at 140 primary clinics, and food assistance for more than 1 million Gazans.

Elsewhere, Deere said the Syrian crisis has severely affected more than 500,000 refugees who rely on food and financial assistance from the UNWRA to survive. In Lebanon, more than 400,000 refugees survive on support from the agency. He added that he believes that Arabs could so more to assist such efforts.

“We are hoping for more support from the Arab World,” he said. “It would go a long way toward addressing our funding challenges.”

The UNRWA can accept donations from the public through online portals such as UNRWA.org and UNRWAUSA.org, he added.


Australian election polls show race tightening in final campaign stretch

Australian election polls show race tightening in final campaign stretch
Updated 7 sec ago

Australian election polls show race tightening in final campaign stretch

Australian election polls show race tightening in final campaign stretch
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison describes the pre-polling trends as ‘really encouraging’
  • Opposition leader Anthony Albanese blames government mismanagement for the slow rise in wages and inflation shock
SYDNEY: Australia’s national election has become too close to call, polls out on Wednesday showed, as the ruling conservative coalition narrowed the gap with the main opposition Labour Party, three days before the country decides on a new government.
Center-left Labor’s lead over the Liberal-National coalition has shrunk to 51-49 percent on a two-party preferred basis from 54-46 percent two weeks ago, a poll done for the Sydney Morning Herald showed. A Guardian poll indicated Labor’s lead had dipped to 48-46 percent from 49 percent-45 percent two weeks ago.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the pre-polling trends as “really encouraging,” while Labor acknowledged the election would be “incredibly close.”
With Australia going to the polls on Saturday, rising living costs have dominated the final stretches of the campaign with voters rating it as the most critical issue in some polls.
Australian wage growth ticked up by only a fraction last quarter, data out on Wednesday showed, even as a tightening labor market and record vacancies heightened competition for workers.
But consumer price inflation has risen twice as fast as wages, keeping real income in the red.
“I have been very candid with Australians about the economic challenges we’re facing ... Labor has no magic bullet on this, they have no magic pen or magic wand,” Morrison told reporters from the marginal Labor-held seat of Corangamite in Victoria.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese blamed government mismanagement for the slow rise in wages and inflation shock.
“Australian workers are paying the price for a decade of bad policy and economic failures while Scott Morrison says he should be rewarded with another three years because he is just getting started,” Albanese said.
Nearly 6 million voters out of an electorate of 17 million have already cast their ballots through postal votes or early in-person voting, official data showed.
An additional 1.1 million postal votes have been received so far versus the 2019 election. The Electoral Commission has flagged a clear winner may not emerge on election night if it is a close contest due to time required to count all postal votes.

Global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds

Smoke rises from the Duvha coal-based power station owned by state power utility Eskom, in Mpumalanga province, South Africa.
Smoke rises from the Duvha coal-based power station owned by state power utility Eskom, in Mpumalanga province, South Africa.
Updated 18 May 2022

Global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds

Smoke rises from the Duvha coal-based power station owned by state power utility Eskom, in Mpumalanga province, South Africa.
  • Pollution kills about the same number of people a year around the world as cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke combined, the study said

NEW DELHI: A new study blames pollution of all types for 9 million deaths a year globally, with the death toll attributed to dirty air from cars, trucks and industry rising 55 percent since 2000.
That increase is offset by fewer pollution deaths from primitive indoor stoves and water contaminated with human and animal waste, so overall pollution deaths in 2019 are about the same as 2015.
The United States is the only fully industrialized country in the top 10 nations for total pollution deaths, ranking 7th with 142,883 deaths blamed on pollution in 2019, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Ethiopia, according to a new study in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health. Tuesday’s pre-pandemic study is based on calculations derived from the Global Burden of Disease database and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. India and China lead the world in pollution deaths with nearly 2.4 million and almost 2.2 million deaths a year, but the two nations also have the world’s largest populations.
When deaths are put on a per population rate, the United States ranks 31st from the bottom at 43.6 pollution deaths per 100,000. Chad and the Central African Republic rank the highest with rates about 300 pollution deaths per 100,000, more than half of them due to tainted water, while Brunei, Qatar and Iceland have the lowest pollution death rates ranging from 15 to 23. The global average is 117 pollution deaths per 100,000 people.
Pollution kills about the same number of people a year around the world as cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke combined, the study said.
“9 million deaths is a lot of deaths,” said Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College.
“The bad news is that it’s not decreasing,” Landrigan said. “We’re making gains in the easy stuff and we’re seeing the more difficult stuff, which is the ambient (outdoor industrial) air pollution and the chemical pollution, still going up.”
It doesn’t have to be this way, researchers said.
“They are preventable deaths. Each and every one of them is a death that is unnecessary,” said Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health, who wasn’t part of the study. She said the calculations made sense and if anything. was so conservative about what it attributed to pollution, that the real death toll is likely higher.
The certificates for these deaths don’t say pollution. They list heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, other lung issues and diabetes that are “tightly correlated” with pollution by numerous epidemiological studies, Landrigan said. To then put these together with actual deaths, researchers look at the number of deaths by cause, exposure to pollution weighted for various factors, and then complicated exposure response calculations derived by large epidemiological studies based on thousands of people over decades of study, he said. It’s the same way scientists can say cigarettes cause cancer and heart disease deaths.
“That cannon of information constitutes causality,” Landrigan said. “That’s how we do it.”
Five outside experts in public health and air pollution, including Goldman, told The Associated Press the study follows mainstream scientific thought. Dr. Renee Salas, an emergency room doctor and Harvard professor who wasn’t part of the study, said “the American Heart Association determined over a decade ago that exposure to (tiny pollution particles) like that generated from the burning of fossil fuels is causal for heart disease and death.”
“While people focus on decreasing their blood pressure and cholesterol, few recognize that the removal of air pollution is an important prescription to improve their heart health,” Salas said.
Three-quarters of the overall pollution deaths came from air pollution and the overwhelming part of that is “a combination of pollution from stationary sources like coal-fired power plants and steel mills on one hand and mobile sources like cars, trucks and buses. And it’s just a big global problem,” said Landrigan, a public health physician. “And it’s getting worse around the world as countries develop and cities grow.”
In New Delhi, India, air pollution peaks in the winter months and last year the city saw just two days when the air wasn’t considered polluted. It was the first time in four years that the city experienced a clean air day during the winter months.
That air pollution remains the leading cause of death in South Asia reconfirms what is already known, but the increase in these deaths means that toxic emissions from vehicles and energy generation is increasing, said Anumita Roychowdhury, a director at the advocacy group Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi.
“This data is a reminder of what is going wrong but also that it is an opportunity to fix it,” Roychowdhury said.
Pollution deaths are soaring in the poorest areas, experts said.
“This problem is worst in areas of the world where population is most dense (e.g. Asia) and where financial and government resources to address the pollution problem are limited and stretched thin to address a host of challenges including health care availability and diet as well as pollution,” said Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, who wasn’t part of the study.
In 2000, industrial air pollution killed about 2.9 million people a year globally. By 2015 it was up to 4.2 million and in 2019 it was 4.5 million, the study said. Toss in household air pollution, mostly from inefficient primitive stoves, and air pollution killed 6.7 million people in 2019, the study found.
Lead pollution — some from lead additive which has been banned from gasoline in every country in the world and also from old paint, recycling batteries and other manufacturing — kills 900,000 people a year, while water pollution is responsible for 1.4 million deaths a year. Occupational health pollution adds another 870,000 deaths, the study said.
In the United States, about 20,000 people a year die from lead pollution-induced hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease, mostly as occupational hazards, Landrigan said. Lead and asbestos are America’s big chemical occupational hazards, and they kill about 65,000 people a year from pollution, he said. The study said the number of air pollution deaths in the United States in 2019 was 60,229, far more than deaths on American roads, which hit a 16-year peak of nearly 43,000 last year.
Modern types of pollution are rising in most countries, especially developing ones, but fell from 2000 to 2019 in the United States, the European Union and Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s numbers can’t quite be explained and may be a reporting issue, said study co-author Richard Fuller, founder of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution and president of Pure Earth, a non-profit that works on pollution clean-up programs in about a dozen countries.
The study authors came up with eight recommendations to reduce pollution deaths, highlighting the need for better monitoring, better reporting and stronger government systems regulating industry and cars.
“We absolutely know how to solve each one of those problems,” Fuller said. “What’s missing is political will.”


Sweden, Finland to submit NATO membership bid Wednesday

Sweden, Finland to submit NATO membership bid Wednesday
Updated 18 May 2022

Sweden, Finland to submit NATO membership bid Wednesday

Sweden, Finland to submit NATO membership bid Wednesday
  • Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden have been rattled by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine

STOCKHOLM: Finland and Sweden announced they will submit their bids to join NATO together Wednesday, despite Turkey’s threat to block the military alliance’s expansion.
“I’m happy we have taken the same path and we can do it together,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Tuesday during a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.
Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden have been rattled by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Their applications will jettison decades of military non-alignment to join the alliance as a defense against feared aggression from Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday warned NATO’s expansion may trigger a response from Moscow.
But the main obstacle to Finland and Sweden’s membership comes from within the alliance, despite NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg repeatedly insisting the two countries would be welcomed “with open arms.”
Turkey has accused Sweden and Finland of acting as a hotbed for terrorist groups and its president insists Ankara will not approve expansion.
Any membership bid must be unanimously approved by NATO’s 30 members.
Niinisto said Tuesday he was “optimistic” Finland and Sweden would be able to secure Turkey’s support.
And in Washington, State Department Spokesman Ned Price likwise expressed confidence that Ankara would not block their entrance into the alliance.
“We are confident that we will be able to preserve the consensus within the alliance of strong support for a potential application of Finland and Sweden,” he said.
Andersson and Niinisto are to meet US President Joe Biden in Washington Thursday to discuss their historic bids.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the bloc offered the bids its “full support” after a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels.
“This will increase the number of member states that are also members of NATO. And this will strengthen and increase the cooperation and the security in Europe,” he said, noting it was “an important geopolitical change.”

After a marathon debate lasting a day and a half, 188 out of 200 Finnish lawmakers voted in favor of NATO membership, a dramatic reversal of Finland’s military non-alignment policy dating back more than 75 years.
“Our security environment has fundamentally changed,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told parliament at the start of the debate.
“The only country that threatens European security, and is now openly waging a war of aggression, is Russia,” she said.
Finland spent more than a century as part of the Russian empire until it gained independence in 1917. It was then invaded by the Soviet Union in 1939.
According to public opinion polls, more than three-quarters of Finns want to join the alliance, almost three times as many as before the war in Ukraine began on February 24.
Swedish public support has also risen dramatically, but remains at around 50 percent.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde signed the application letter Tuesday.
The turnaround is also dramatic in Sweden, which remained neutral throughout World War II and has stayed out of military alliances for more than 200 years.

Ankara has thrown a spanner in the works with its last-minute objections.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Helsinki and Stockholm of harboring militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
Sweden also suspended arms sales to Turkey in 2019 over Ankara’s military operation in neighboring Syria.
“We will not say ‘yes’ to those who apply sanctions to Turkey to join NATO,” Erdogan said Monday, adding that “neither of the countries has a clear stance against terror organizations.”
Diplomatic sources told AFP that Turkey blocked a NATO declaration Monday in favor of Sweden and Finland’s membership.
Sweden and Finland have sent delegations to Turkey to meet with Turkish officials.
“Sweden is delighted to work with Turkey in NATO and this cooperation can be part of our bilateral relations,” Sweden’s Andersson said, emphasising that Stockholm “is committed to fighting against all types of terrorism.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in New York on Wednesday.
“Our assessment of the sentiment among our NATO allies and within the NATO alliance has not changed,” said Price, the State Department spokesman.


Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Cannes Film Festival

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Cannes Film Festival
Updated 17 May 2022

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Cannes Film Festival

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Cannes Film Festival
  • Volodymyr Zelensky referred to the power of cinema during World War II, including the 1940 Charlie Chaplin film ‘The Great Dictator’ which mocked Nazi leader Adolf Hitler
  • Zelensky: ‘We need a new Chaplin to prove today that cinema is not mute. Will cinema keep quiet, or will it speak up? Can cinema stay outside of this?’

CANNES, France: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise video address at the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday.
“Hundreds of people are dying every day. They won’t get up again after the clapping at the end,” he told the audience, which had reacted with surprise when the pre-recorded message was introduced.
“Will cinema keep quiet, or will it speak up? If there is a dictator, if there is a war for freedom, once again, everything depends on our unity. Can cinema stay outside of this unity?” Zelensky added.
Zelensky referred to the power of cinema during World War II, including the 1940 Charlie Chaplin film “The Great Dictator” which mocked Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
“Chaplin’s dictator did not destroy the real dictator, but thanks to cinema, thanks to this film, cinema did not stay quiet,” Zelensky said.
“We need a new Chaplin to prove today that cinema is not mute. Will cinema keep quiet, or will it speak up? Can cinema stay outside of this?”
His speech received a standing ovation from the crowd in the southern French resort town’s Palais des Festivals.
The war is a dominant theme for the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, with a special day dedicated to Ukraine’s filmmakers at the industry marketplace.
“Mariupolis 2,” a documentary about the conflict by Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius, who was reportedly killed by Russian forces in Ukraine last month, will get a special screening.
Zelensky similarly addressed the Grammy awards ceremony in Las Vegas last month, telling the crowd: “Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos. They sing to the wounded in hospitals.”
The opening ceremony in Cannes had introduced the jury and handed an honorary Palme d’Or to actor and peace activist Forest Whitaker.
“The torments of the world, which is bleeding, suffering, burning... they rack my conscience,” French actor and jury president Vincent Lindon said in his speech.


Hundreds of Ukrainians defending Azovstal plant surrender to uncertain fate

Hundreds of Ukrainians defending Azovstal plant surrender to uncertain fate
Updated 17 May 2022

Hundreds of Ukrainians defending Azovstal plant surrender to uncertain fate

Hundreds of Ukrainians defending Azovstal plant surrender to uncertain fate
  • Russian forces pummelled Mariupol, a major port on the Sea of Azov between Russia and Crimea, with artillery for weeks
  • Civilians and Ukrainian fighters had hunkered down in Azovstal

MARIUPOL, Ukraine: Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters surrendered to an uncertain fate on Tuesday after weeks holed up in the bunkers and tunnels below Mariupol’s Azovstal steel works as the most devastating siege of Russia’s war in Ukraine drew to a close.
Russian forces pummelled Mariupol, a major port on the Sea of Azov between Russia and Crimea, with artillery for weeks. After the urban warfare that followed, the city is a wasteland.
Civilians and Ukrainian fighters had hunkered down in Azovstal, a vast Soviet-era plant founded under Josef Stalin and designed with a maze of bunkers and tunnels to withstand nuclear attack.
Russia’s defense ministry said 265 fighters had surrendered, including 51 who were seriously wounded and would be treated at Novoazovsk in the Russian-backed breakaway Donetsk region.
Five buses took wounded fighters there early on Tuesday, and in the evening a Reuters witness saw seven more, escorted by armored vehicles. They brought other Azovstal fighters to a newly reopened prison in Olenivka near the regional capital Donetsk.
The occupants were not visibly wounded. One bore a prominent tattoo on his neck featuring a Ukrainian national trident symbol.
Ukraine’s military command had said in the early hours that it was ending the mission to defend the plant, led by the Azov Regiment, which had previously insisted it would not surrender and appealed to Kyiv to organize an extraction.
“Because Mariupol drew in the Russian Federation’s forces for 82 days, the operation to seize the east and south (of Ukraine) was held up. It changed the course of the war,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said.
It was unclear what would happen to the fighters.
Moscow has depicted the Azov Regiment as one of the main perpetrators of the alleged radical anti-Russian nationalism or even Nazism from which it says it needs to protect Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed that the fighters who surrendered would be treated “in accordance with international standards.”
ACCUSATIONS
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said in a video that “an exchange procedure will take place for their return home.”
But Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house, said: “Nazi criminals should not be exchanged.”
The TASS news agency said Russian federal investigators would question the soldiers as part of a probe into what Moscow calls “Ukrainian regime crimes.”
And Russian deputy ambassador to the United Nations Dmitry Polyansky said there had been no deal, tweeting: “I didn’t know English has so many ways to express a single message: the #Azovnazis have unconditionally surrendered.”
Civilians evacuated earlier had spoken of desperate conditions in the bunkers, and some fighters had endured horrific battle injuries with minimal medical assistance.
The Azov Regiment was formed in 2014 as an extreme right-wing volunteer militia to fight Russian-backed separatists who had taken control of parts of the Donbas — the largely Russian-speaking industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine where Russia says it wants to end Ukrainian rule.
The regiment denies being fascist, racist or neo-Nazi, and Ukraine says it has been reformed away from its radical nationalist origins to be integrated into the National Guard.
Kyiv also denies that Russian speakers have been persecuted in Ukraine, and says the allegation that it has a fascist agenda, repeated daily on Russian media, is a baseless pretext for a Russian war of aggression.
Russia’s Prosecutor General’s office asked the Supreme Court to class the regiment as a “terrorist organization,” Interfax news agency reported, citing the Ministry of Justice website.
Lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, one of Russia’s negotiators in talks with Ukraine, called the evacuated combatants “animals in human form” and said they should receive the death penalty.
“They do not deserve to live after the monstrous crimes against humanity that they have committed and that are committed continuously against our prisoners,” he said.