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Funding shortfall starting to bite — UNRWA chief

By Maram Kayed - Jun 18,2019 - Last updated at Jun 18,2019

AMMAN — UNRWA is “beginning to sense the effect” of its $200-$211 million budget deficit this month, Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl said on Monday.

“We need $1.2 billion to provide our services adequately this year. So far, we have received 350 million. That has covered our expenses until May,” he said at a press conference for UNRWA’s advisory committee gathering at the Dead Sea.

After the US decided to cut its funding from $350 million to $60 million last year, citing “reforms” and “renewed Palestinians peace talks” as its reason, the agency was left with a $464 million deficit.

However, Krähenbühl said: “We have now lost the entirety of the US funding, including the $60 million,” adding that “despite the current deficit; the agency’s ability to decrease the gap to $200 million was a great achievement”.

With 28 donors in attendance, UNRWA stressed its need for “political and financial support” to continue its services for refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

He commended the efforts of Jordan and His Majesty King Abdullah for their support over the past 18 months, saying Jordan has “advocated for the agency”.

After Monday’s gathering, UNRWA will hold a fund and pledge-raising conference in New York, and another one in September, according to the commissioner.

“We are talking about refugees in Aleppo who have gone through war and displacement not once, but twice. Refugees in Lebanon who suffer from overcrowded camps and a lack of opportunities. Refugees in Gaza who have lost family members in the Return Marches last year. All they want is dignity and a fair chance,” the commissioner said, urging the 42 countries that helped narrow the funding gap last year to do the same this year.

The agency’s top five donors now include the EU, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Britain and Sweden, with other countries such as Japan, Qatar and the UAE “closely behind”, according to Krähenbühl.

AFP news agency reported last month that US envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt said UNRWA “has failed the Palestinian people”, suggesting it was time to “start a conversation about planning the transition of UNRWA services to host governments, or to other international or local non-governmental organisations, as appropriate”.

Replying to Greenblatt’s statement, Krähenbühl told The Jordan Times that “a humanitarian agency who helps people is not the one who perpetuates any situation. It is not political action, but political inaction, that causes more distress. Such wording is used only to distract attention from the real problem.”

He told reporters that “any country has the right to increase or decrease funding as that is a sovereign decision. We will not, however, accept any attempt to delegitimise the agency or undermine its role.”

UNRWA’s mission is due to come up for renewal later this year in the General Assembly.

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