AMMAN: The UN relief agency has warned of a major disruption to services for Palestinian refugees unless it receives an immediate cash injection.
Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the financially troubled UN Relief and Works Agency, said that in the coming weeks, UNRWA urgently needed between $50 million and $80 million “to be able to end the year and keep schools, health centers, and other basic services running.”
The official was addressing a news conference on the sidelines of the biannual UNRWA Advisory Commission meeting in the Jordanian capital Amman on Monday.
He pointed out that many Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan were “almost entirely dependent on the agency’s support,” adding that the agency required close to $200 million over the next three years to achieve the objectives of its strategic plan.
Lazzarini noted that Palestinian refugees’ hardships were increasing because of regional conflicts and instability, and the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “This entails securing more funding to meet the refugee communities’ needs because UNRWA cannot operate with the same financial resources.”
The organization has been adopting austerity measures to cope with its increasing financial difficulties but, “UNRWA cannot continue to operate in the same manner in light of the high costs and increased needs of refugees,” he added.
Highlighting that poverty rates in UNRWA-run Palestinian refugee camps — mainly in Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria — had reached “unprecedented levels of around 80 percent,” he said that “40 percent of children in Gaza cannot have breakfast every morning because of the miserable situation.”
He added that In Lebanon, most Palestinian refugees existed below the poverty line and many in Syria lived among “rubble” in the destroyed camps because they had nowhere else to go.
Lazzarini said that the UN agency played a “public sector-like role” in refugee camps, adding that it remained the “largest investment for Palestinian refugees” in the absence of a just solution to the long-running conflict with Israel.
He pointed out that without additional funding, “UNRWA will not be able to continue providing the same quality of services in the education and health sectors” to the 5.7 million Palestinian refugees.
UNRWA, he noted, had reached out to its long-time donors, and succeeded in reinforcing its status and keeping it on the agenda of the international community.
“This support stems from the deep belief held by most UN member states that UNRWA is irreplaceable for the well-being and the fulfilment of the human rights of Palestine refugees.”
Lazzarini hailed Saudi Arabia’s recent contribution of $27 million in support of the agency’s programs and operations in the region.
“It is now my hope that we will resume our solid and predictable partnerships with all Gulf countries, including by reaching again the level of funding that UNRWA received from the Arab countries between 2015 and 2018,” he added.
Also on Monday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi called on the international community to maintain necessary financial support to UNRWA.
Opening the meeting in Amman, the minister underlined the centrality of the agency’s “indispensable” role in providing essential services for Palestinian refugees.
Safadi highlighted the need, “to translate the political support for the agency into sustainable financial support that could bridge the agency’s budget deficit and help it continue to serve Palestinian refugees.”
UNRWA ran into financial problems after losing $360 million of US funding cut by former American President Donald Trump in 2018.
In April 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration announced it would provide $235 million in US aid to the Palestinians, two-thirds of which goes to UNRWA.