UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference
The $100 million shortfall is about the same as UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 25 June 2022

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference
  • Agency subject to smear campaign that ignores pioneering achievements, its chief tells Arab News
  • UN Relief and Works Agency supports millions of Palestinian refugees in Middle East

UNITED NATIONS: The solution to the chronic underfunding of the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees lies in a “political will” that matches declarations of support for its work, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency told Arab News.

Philippe Lazzarini’s comments came at a press briefing a day after a pledging conference that raised $160 million from international donors.

This leaves the agency short of $100 million needed to support education for more than half a million Palestinian children, health care services for over 2 million people, and cash assistance for the poorest among them.

The $100 million shortfall is about the same as UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade.

This year, however, skyrocketing costs mean the agency will not be able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost-control measures as “there’s very little left to cut without cutting services,” Lazzarini said, adding that the money should tide UNRWA over until September, but things are up in the air after that.

“We’re in an early warning mode,” he said. “Right now, I’m drawing attention that we’re in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers can’t be paid.”

He added that UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe, and last year the Biden administration restored funding, reversing former US President Donald Trump’s aid freeze.

But Lazzarini said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3 percent of the agency’s income.

“What’s also true is that the Arab world and the Gulf countries have always shown great solidarity with Palestinian refugees, and have always been involved in financing the construction of schools and clinics, and whenever there was a humanitarian emergency, to contribute to the humanitarian response,” he added. “This is very important to keep.”

He said the Arab League has been discussing for two years that its contribution to UNRWA should at least amount to 7-8 percent of the agency’s core budget.

“There’s room for increased solidarity, and having the region committed means a lot to the Palestinians,” he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine cast a shadow over the donor conference, where some admitted to financial difficulties and donor fatigue.

“Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” Lazzarini said. “We’ll know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency.”

Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he added.

UNRWA was established in 1949 following a resolution by the UN General Assembly to carry out relief efforts for the 750,000 Palestinians who were forced from their homes when Israel was established in 1948.

There are now about 6 million Palestinian refugees living in camps in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” Lazzarini said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who can’t spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”

UNRWA’s problem is that “we’re expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we’re funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions,” he added.

Ahead of Thursday’s donor conference, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s permanent UN representative, had urged countries to stop contributions until UNRWA fires teachers that his country claims support terrorism and killing Jews.

Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s UN Mission on Friday that he had not read, but all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of UN values and misconduct, “we’ll take measures in line with UN policies.”

He added that UNRWA’s detractors are usually civil society organizations that “seek to undermine the agency, usually target lawmakers, and talk about (UNRWA’s) textbooks and education in schools without acknowledging the extraordinary efforts exerted by the agency to ensure quality education in line with UNESCO standards.

“I keep reminding we’re the only ones having reached gender equality, having a proper human rights curriculum in the region, that we’re regularly assessed by third parties.

“The World Bank assessed that we’re high value for money when it comes to education. Children are one year ahead compared to public education in the region.

“We have extraordinary human success stories of kids who have gone to our schools and succeeded at international level.”

He said UNRWA’s operations are among the most heavily scrutinized but “despite that, there’s smear campaign on issues — which sometimes need indeed to be addressed — but which never acknowledge the efforts being put by the agency.”
 


Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN

Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN
Updated 14 sec ago

Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN

Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN
  • President Mahmoud Abbas to make the case for enhanced status at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23

RAMALLAH: Palestinian leaders have launched a new diplomatic drive to obtain full membership of the UN.

The campaign will culminate with a landmark speech by President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23, in which he will make the case for enhanced status.

“In the absence of a political path and hope for the Palestinians to end the occupation, they have no choice but to resort to the UN to enhance the status of Palestine as a state and the Palestinians as a people on their land under occupation,” Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem told Arab News on Wednesday.

The UN granted Palestine non-member observer state status at a historic vote in the General Assembly in November 2012, when 138 countries voted in favor, 9 opposed it, and 41 abstained. The resolution included “the hope that the Security Council will consider positively” accepting the request for full membership. Abbas submitted this in September 2011, but it fell in the Security Council because the US threatened to use its veto.

Fatah official Sabri Saidem told Arab News that France had encouraged the Palestinians to demand full membership of the UN, and Sweden and Ireland had expressed their unconditional support for the move. He said the Palestinians would now seek more Arab and international support.

UN membership was “a long-awaited entitlement, especially with the continued Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, the failure of US President Joe Biden’s administration to implement its vision in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and double standards when it comes to Palestine and Ukraine," he said.

 

 


Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital
Updated 11 August 2022

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

SANAA, Yemen: Heavy rains lashing Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, which dates back to ancient times, have in recent days collapsed 10 buildings in the Old City, the country’s Houthi rebels said Wednesday.
At least 80 other buildings have been heavily damaged in the rains and are in need of urgent repairs, said the rebels, who have controlled Sanaa since the outbreak of Yemen’s civil war more than eight years ago.
The Old City of Sanaa is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the area believed to have been inhabited for more than 2 millennia. Its architecture is unique, with foundations and first stories built of stone, and subsequent stories out of brick — deemed to be some of the world’s first high-rises.
The buildings have red brick facades adorned with white gypsum molding in ornate patterns, drawings comparisons to gingerbread houses — a style that has come to symbolize Yemen’s capital. Many of the houses are still private homes and some are more than 500 years old.
In a statement, Abdullah Al-Kabsi, the culture minister in the Houthi administration, said the rebels are working with international organizations and seeking help in dealing with the destruction. There were no immediate reports of dead or injured from the collapses.
The houses had withstood centuries but this season’s intense rains have proved too much for the iconic structures. Bricks and wooden beams now make for massive piles of rubble in between still-standing structures.
The rains show no signs of letting up.
“I get scared when I hear the rain and pray to God because I am afraid that my house will collapse over me,” Youssef Al-Hadery, a resident of the Old City said.


Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows
Updated 10 August 2022

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows
  • Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia
  • Importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemeni ports

ADEN: Yemen has secured enough wheat to cover two-and-a-half months of consumption, a commerce ministry document dated Aug. 4 showed, as global disruptions and local currency instability risk deepening the war-torn country’s hunger crisis.
A review by the internationally recognized government in Aden showed 176,400 tons of wheat available — 70,400 stockpiled and 106,000 booked for August/September delivery — according to the document.
This is in addition to 32,300 tons of wheat available from the United Nations, which feeds some 13 million people a month in Yemen, the document showed.
Yemen is grappling with a dire humanitarian crisis that has left millions hungry in the seven-year conflict that divided the country and wrecked the economy. Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia.
HSA Group, one of Yemen’s largest food conglomerates, said it had booked around 250,000 tons of wheat from Romania and France, sufficient to supply the market until mid-October, and that it is looking to secure a further 110,000 tons.
“Following the announcement of the Ukraine grain deal, we are currently looking to secure Ukrainian wheat for the Yemeni market if it remains affordable and accessible,” an HSA spokesperson, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered a deal last month to restart exports from Ukraine, cut off since Russia’s February invasion, which could ease grain shortages that have driven up global prices. So far, however, there have not been any shipments of wheat.
Yemeni importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemen ports and the country’s limited storage capacity, the HSA spokesperson said, and therefore the firm books new shipments every 2-3 weeks depending on availability and global prices.
Another issue facing importers is Yemen’s foreign reserves shortage and a serious devaluation of the currency in some parts of the country, where food price inflation has soared.
The Aden-based central bank has put in place an auction mechanism to ease access to foreign currency, but no import financing mechanism is currently in place to support the market.


Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast
Updated 10 August 2022

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast
  • The decision was issued in the context of a complaint filed by the Beirut Bar Association to question the two MPs
  • Compensation of 100 billion Lebanese pounds is being sought

BEIRUT: Judicial authorities in Lebanon Wednesday ordered the temporary seizure of the property of two deputies in the case of the deadly explosion which destroyed Beirut port two years ago.
“Judge Najah Itani has issued a temporary seizure order worth 100 billion Lebanese pounds on the property of MPs Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter,” a judicial source told AFP.
The source said the decision was issued in the context of a complaint filed by the Beirut Bar Association to question the two for having “used their rights... in an arbitrary manner by filing complaints intended to hinder the investigation.”
Compensation of 100 billion Lebanese pounds is being sought.
On Thursday, crisis-hit Lebanon marked two years since the massive port blast ripped through Beirut.
The dockside blast of haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate, one of history’s biggest non-nuclear explosions, killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and decimated vast areas of the capital.
After the tragedy, the bar launched legal proceedings against the state on behalf of nearly 1,400 families of victims.
However, an investigation into the cause has been stalled amid political interference and no state official has yet been held accountable over the tragedy.
Khalil and Zeaiter, of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal party, filed a total of 20 complaints against Judge Tareq Bitar for obstructing the investigation which he himself was carrying out.
Politicians on all sides have refused to be questioned by the judge.
Officials close to the powerful Hezbollah movement have also curtailed Bitar’s work with a series of lawsuits.
His investigation has been paused since December 23.
On Thursday’s second anniversary of the blast, relatives of victims demanded an international inquiry.


Syria says Daesh leader killed in south

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south
Updated 10 August 2022

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south
  • Security forces carried out a "special operation" in the Daraa area that led to the death of "the terrorist Abu Salem al-Iraqi"
  • The security source said Iraqi had been the military chief of the extremist group in the country's south

DAMASCUS: A leader of Daesh group blew himself up in southern Syria after being surrounded by government forces, state media reported on Wednesday, citing a security source.
The official SANA news agency said security forces carried out a “special operation” in the Daraa area that led to the death of “the terrorist Abu Salem Al-Iraqi.”
Iraqi “triggered his explosive belt after being surrounded and wounded,” the agency said.
The security source said Iraqi had been the military chief of the extremist group in the country’s south.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, which has a vast network of sources on the ground, said Iraqi died on Tuesday.
It said he had been hiding out in the area since 2018, and had taken part in killings and attacks there.
Daraa province has mostly been under regime control since 2018, but rebel groups still control some areas under a truce deal agreed with Russia, an ally of Damascus.
After a meteoric rise in 2014 in Iraq and Syria that saw it conquer vast swathes of territory, Daesh saw its self-proclaimed “caliphate” collapse under a wave of offensives.
It was defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria two years later, but sleeper cells of the extremist Sunni Muslim group still carry out attacks in both countries.
Syria’s war began in 2011 and has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.