UN agency for Palestinian refugees raises just $107m of $300m needed to help millions

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Despite a dire warning from the UN chief that the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees “is on the verge of financial collapse”, donors at an announcement conference Friday’s contributions provided just $107 million in new funds — far less than the $300 million it needs to continue helping millions of people.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the agency known as UNRWA, said he was grateful for the new pledges, but they fell short of the funds needed to keep more than 700 schools and 140 clinics open. from September to December.

“We will continue to work tirelessly with our partners, including host countries – the main supporters of refugees – to raise the necessary funds,” he said in a statement.

Earlier this year, UNRWA appealed for $1.6 billion for its emergency programmes, operations and response in Syria, Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and Jordan. This includes nearly $850 million for its base budget, which includes running schools and health clinics.

According to UNRWA, donors on Friday announced $812.3 million in pledges, but only $107.2 million were new contributions. The countries pledging new funds have not been announced.

Lazzarini told a press conference on Thursday that UNRWA needed $150 million to keep all services running until the end of the year, and another $50 million to start 2024 without passive. In addition, he said, the agency needs $75 million to maintain the food pipeline in Gaza and about $30 million for its cash distribution program in Syria and Lebanon.

UNRWA was founded following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 to provide hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes with education, health care, social services and, in some cases, jobs. Today, their numbers – along with their descendants – have swelled to some 5.9 million people, mostly in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as well as neighboring countries in the Middle East.

UNRWA has faced a financial crisis for 10 years, but Lazzarini said the current crisis is “massive”, calling it “our main existential threat”.

“It’s deepening and our ability to fend for ourselves is slowly but surely coming to an end,” he said. “The situation is even more critical now that some of our committed donors have indicated that they will significantly reduce their contribution to the agency.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a speech read by his chief of staff at the start of the donors’ conference that “when the future of UNRWA hangs in the balance, so does the lives of millions of Palestinian refugees who depend on essential services”.

These services include education for over half a million girls and boys, health care for around 2 million people, employment opportunities for young people in Gaza and elsewhere, psychosocial support for hundreds thousands of children and a social safety net for nearly half a million of the poorest Palestinians, he said. More than 1.2 million Palestinians are also receiving humanitarian aid.

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