AMMAN, 22 February (UNRWA) -- With continuing confrontations in the occupied territories and the resultant Israeli punitive restrictions on movement of Palestinians and goods in the West Bank and Gaza, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) today launched a new emergency appeal requesting $37.2 million in urgent funding to enable it continue with the emergency humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees for the next three months in both areas already underway with funding from the Agency's flash and first emergency appeals issued in October and November 2000. The new emergency appeal will concentrate, amongst other things, on employment creation and food aid.
In his introductory statement at a special informal meeting with UNRWA's major donor and host governments, held in Amman today, the Agency's Commissioner-General Peter Hansen said that not only did the number of fatalities and casualties grow, but that there has been a drastic worsening in the economic and living conditions of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, particularly among Palestine refugees. The current political uncertainty coupled with the worst deterioration in the situation in the occupied territories since 1991, have further heightened refugee concerns and anxieties for the future.
Representatives of UNRWA's major donor and host governments were briefed by Mr. Hansen and other Agency officials about the implementation of UNRWA's emergency appeals issued in October and November 2000, during which the Agency received over $41.5 million in funding. With this additional funding, the Agency expanded its health services to address the needs of a growing number of casualties among the refugee population in the West Bank and Gaza, including the provision of physiotherapy, prosthetic devices and cash assistance to needy refugees. In addition, food parcels, comprising basic food commodities such as flour, rice, lentils, sugar, whole milk and cooking oil, were distributed to around 120,000 families in Gaza (64 per cent of the total refugee population in Gaza Strip) and to around 46,000 families in the West Bank. Cash subsidies were also provided to families who lost their income or whose shelters were destroyed. In addition, UNRWA created opportunities for temporary employment for refugees who lost their jobs and income. These employment generation programmes also helped improve the infrastructure in refugee camps.
Mr. Hansen alluded to the main obstacles facing the Agency in the implementation of its emergency humanitarian assistance which were delaying and obstructing UNRWA assistance, thus exasperating the situation. The Israeli authorities placed new restrictions on the entry of humanitarian goods into Gaza, which increased the cost and time needed to bring humanitarian medical and basic food commodities into Gaza. Israeli closures and roadblocks have seriously affected the movement of Agency personnel, not only from and to Gaza and the West Bank, but also within both areas. Unemployment levels in the occupied territories have grown from 11 per cent in September 2000 to over 40 per cent today, with alarming consequences on the level of poverty among Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, particularly refugees who are more dependent on employment in Israel. "Poverty has become endemic; and half of the population in Gaza, and one-third of the population in the West Bank lives below the poverty line", Mr. Hansen said. Many businesses have closed, laying off their workers, and driving up unemployment. Many manufacturing and construction companies have been unable to obtain raw materials due to restrictions on the import of "non-humanitarian goods"; while many others are facing bankruptcy as they are unable to honour existing contracts or meet business obligations.
Funds requested under the emergency appeal issued by UNRWA today aim to extend emergency assistance until the end of May. In order to contain and mitigate the poverty facing the refugee community, UNRWA is expanding the emergency employment creation programme, established under the first appeal, to provide wages to the poorest and to create about 540,000 job opportunity days in Gaza and the West Bank to employ labour in school construction, shelter rehabilitation and repair of damaged infrastructure in camps.
Emergency aid requested also includes a provision for providing food and cash subsidies for about 200,000 families, medical services and post-injury rehabilitation and additional mobile medical teams to reach beneficiaries in areas under siege or cut off from access to basic medical services.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East also plans to take action to address the longer-term impact of the crisis on school children and to compensate the pupils for the loss of days of education. With the additional funding requested, UNRWA hopes to develop self-learning material and distance-learning modules in addition to offering additional classes to compensate for lost time at school.
Under the new appeal, UNRWA will recruit Operations Support Officers with the primary intent of supporting Agency operations that have been adversely affected by recent events.
Participants in the meeting representing UNRWA’s major donor and host governments stressed the importance of unhindered mobility of Agency staff and services, including goods, as the only means to ensuring the continuity of UNRWA’s regular operations as well as the implementation and effectiveness of the humanitarian assistance funded under the flash and first appeals, as well as those envisaged under the new emergency appeal.
With an expected budgetary deficit of $65 million for its regular programmes, the Agency’s existing resources and staff are already over-stretched and would not be able to cope unless the additional requested funding is received. The $37.2 million in additional emergency funding requested by UNRWA.
In today’s meeting is over and above the Agency’s annual budget of $311 million approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999 and the $41.5 million already pledged/received for the flash and first appeals issued in October and November 2000.
Further information on the Agency’s emergency appeal and UNRWA’s regular programmes is available on UNRWA’s Web site on the Internet at www.unrwa.org.
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