26 September 2001


(Reissued as received.)

AMMAN, Jordan, 24 September (UNRWA) -- The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is facing a financial crisis at a time when it is needed more than ever as a force for stability in the Middle East. That was the stark message of Peter Hansen, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, to a meeting of donor and host nations in Amman, Jordan, today.

The donors’ meeting, which was attended by representatives of 25 countries and the European Union, began with a minute of silence for the victims of the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., on 11 September. The meeting was opened by Adbul Ilah Khatib, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Jordan. He urged the donor countries to a "collective effort to support UNRWA politically, financially and morally at this crucial time".

Mr. Hansen explained that UNRWA’s difficult financial situation had been created by a $31 million shortfall in the donations needed by the Agency. He also told donors that UNRWA’s financial problems have been compounded by a delay in receiving funds that had already been pledged.

The Commissioner-General said: "The level of expected income is currently estimated at $280 million against the General Assembly approved budget of $311 million. A few donors have come in with late donations, but of the pledged income $65 million remains outstanding." Only the last minute arrival of $20 million from the European Union will enable the Agency to pay the October salaries of its 22,000 staff.

Mr. Hansen said that current events had made it more important than ever that UNRWA is able to carry out its work. "We are passing through a very difficult political stage in the region and the Agency has in the past been credited with having contributed to stability in the region. Now, more than ever, there is a vital need for this role. The refugees need to be assured that the commitments of the international community to their welfare will continue."

The UNRWA’s school buildings were crumbling, said Mr. Hansen. "They are a risk and a danger to pupils and teachers and exemplify the situation we are in. What we face today is a threat to the integrity of the infrastructure of the Agency."

In addition to the difficulties of its long-term operations, Mr. Hansen described the situation in Gaza and the West Bank. Here, he said, almost 80 per cent of refugees have been forced under the poverty line by the severe economic downturn caused by Israel’s closure policy. He told delegates: "Clearly this is an explosive situation that we all have a responsibility to try to avoid." However, he explained that the Third Emergency Appeal for $77 million had so far received pledges for around only half the required amount. "We are threatened on two fronts", he said. "On the general fund side and on the emergency fund side."

On top of its financial difficulties, Mr. Hansen told the delegates that UNRWA had a daily struggle to reach camps and villages because of Israeli blockades and closures. He said that despite Israel’s obligations under international conventions and agreements with UNRWA, the Agency had never been given a stable set of procedures to enable it to plan its movements of humanitarian assistance.

The major donors to UNRWA were also given briefings by the Agency on its proposed biennium budget for 2002-2003 which, at $674.8 million, has been calculated as the minimum needed to maintain the Agency’s services as the refugee population grows. The Agency’s emergency activities were outlined in detail as were the difficulties of maintaining humanitarian access to refugees in Gaza and the West Bank. The donors were also informed about the progress of UNRWA’s management and financial systems reforms. Reforms that are designed to improve the Agency’s operations and enhance its efficiency.

The two-day session will end with a meeting of UNRWA’s Advisory Commission, the body appointed by the United Nations General Assembly to assist and advise the Commissioner-General in the execution of the Agency’s programmes.

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