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UNITED NATIONS: The solution to the chronic underfunding of the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees lies in “political will” that matches statements of support for its work, the head of the Relief and of United Nations work at Arab News.
Philippe Lazzarini’s comments came during a press briefing the day after a pledging conference that raised $160 million from international donors.
That leaves the agency short of $100 million needed to support education for more than half a million Palestinian children, health services for more than 2 million people and cash assistance for the most vulnerable. poor among them.
The $100 million shortfall is about the same as UNRWA has faced every year for nearly a decade.
This year, however, soaring costs mean the agency will not be able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost control measures because “there is very little left to cut without cutting services,” said Lazzarini, adding that the money is expected to deal with UNRWA until September, but things are on hold after that.
“We are in early warning mode,” he said. “At this time, I draw attention to the fact that we are in a danger zone and we must avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed into crossing the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point, that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers cannot be paid.
He added that UNRWA had a very strong donor base in Europe and that last year the Biden administration restored funding, undoing former US President Donald Trump’s aid freeze.
But Lazzarini said the overall contribution from the Arab world has fallen to less than 3% of the agency’s revenue.
“What is also true is that the Arab world and the Gulf countries have always shown great solidarity with the Palestinian refugees, and have always been involved in funding the construction of schools and clinics. , and whenever there was a humanitarian emergency, to contribute to the humanitarian response,” he added. “It’s very important to keep.”
He said the Arab League had been discussing for two years that its contribution to UNRWA should be at least 7-8% of the agency’s core budget.
“There is room for increased solidarity, and the region’s engagement means a lot to the Palestinians,” he added.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine cast a shadow over the donors’ conference, where some admitted financial difficulties and donor fatigue.
“Funding for agency services was put at risk today because of deprioritization, or perhaps increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” Lazzarini said. “We will know better at the end of the year what impact this will have on 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 United Nations General Assembly resolution to carry out relief efforts for the 750,000 Palestinians who were forced from their homes during the establishment of Israel in 1948.
There are now around 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 classrooms with up to 50 children,” Lazzarini said. “We have a double rotation in our schools. We have doctors who cannot spend more than three minutes in a medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to reduce its services.
The problem with UNRWA is that “we are supposed to provide government-like services to one of the most deprived communities in the region, but we are funded like an NGO because we are completely dependent on voluntary contributions”, he said. -he adds.
Ahead of Thursday’s donors’ conference, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, urged countries to stop their contributions until UNRWA fires teachers who his country says are supporting terrorism and kill Jews.
Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from the Israeli UN mission on Friday which he had not read, but all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of UN values and misconduct, “we will take action in accordance with UN policies”.
He added that UNRWA’s critics 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 made by the agency to ensure quality education in accordance with UNESCO standards.
“I keep reminding ourselves that we are the only ones to have achieved gender equality, to have a real human rights curriculum in the region, that we are regularly evaluated by third parties.
“The World Bank has assessed that we have excellent value for money in education. The children are one year ahead of public education in the region.
“We have extraordinary human success stories of children who have gone to our schools and achieved international success.”
He said UNRWA’s operations are among the most scrutinized but ‘despite this there is a smear campaign over issues – which sometimes need to be addressed – but which never recognize the efforts made by the agency’ .