Funding gap for critical UN Agency narrows, but financial challenges remain as food crisis in Gaza looms
Yesterday, the international community demonstrated its firm commitment to Palestine refugees and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) by providing additional political and financial backing at a Pledging Conference held at the United Nations General Assembly in the presence of the Secretary-General.
Member states collectively confirmed US$ 160 million in pledges to support the health, education, social protection and other essential services that UNRWA delivers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The funds also cover some emergency response programmes, namely food and cash assistance in the occupied Palestinian territory and Syria.
With the confirmed contributions and those that are forecast over the summer, UNRWA expects a shortfall of over US$ 100 million on its core budget. The Agency will continue its immense efforts to mobilize the funds it needs to keep essential services running until the end of the year.
The conference brought together dozens of nations to address the Agency’s funding gap, which remains substantial despite the pledges announced. Years of underfunding leave the Agency’s financial reserves depleted and have started to affect the quality of services because of longstanding cost control and austerity measures.
“Investing in UNRWA means investing in stability for the region,” said the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “It means investing in the future through education of children and youth, girls and boys, young women and men. And it means honouring the commitment of the international community to Palestine refugees and their rights until a just and durable political solution is found.”
Cascading global crises are undermining the ability of millions of Palestine refugees to meet even simple, day-to-day needs. The situation of Palestine refugees is especially acute in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, with poverty rates reaching 80 per cent and soaring inflation and food prices.
“The amounts pledged today will go straight to fund education, health and social protection services to Palestine refugees,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Phillippe Lazzarini. “They will also be used to purchase food and deliver cash assistance to the most vulnerable Palestine refugees. But even with today’s contributions, it will be very challenging to reconcile the requirements of the mandate, the immense hardships of Palestine refugees and the funding shortage that remains. I truly hope that today’s pledges will encourage other partners to step up and provide additional crucial assistance.”
UNRWA, which often operates amidst political and humanitarian crises, is widely considered a pioneer in refugee service delivery and is arguably the UN’s most efficient organization. The Agency has continually adapted across all fields of its operations overcoming challenges in recent years, including expanding e-health access and telemedicine, launching a digital learning platform, strengthening is zero-tolerance approach towards sexual exploitation and abuse, and developing policies and practices for gender parity and equality across the Agency.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.7 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.