GAZA, While the decision of the United States to cut $300 million in funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) this year – in a way to punish the Palestinians for not going along with its schemes – has been described by the Agency’s Commissioner-General as an existential threat to UNRWA, a conference expected to kick off on Sunday hopes to salvage the humanitarian organization, an official said on Saturday.
The 100th round of the Conference of Supervisors on Palestinian Affairs in the host Arab countries that will kick off on Sunday at the headquarters of the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States in Cairo is expected to discuss UNRWA’s financial crisis and ways to overcome it, according to Ahmad Abu Houli, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and head of its Refugees Affairs Department.
He said in a statement that the conference will discuss in depth the financial crisis experienced by UNRWA and search for mechanisms to help the Agency overcome its financial crisis without compromising the basic services provided to Palestinian refugees.
He said the conference will be held with the participation of Arab countries hosting refugees, the general secretariats of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference, the Arab League Educational Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO).
He said the five-day conference will discuss, among other things related to Palestine in general, the situation of Palestinian refugees in the host Arab countries, especially in Syria and Lebanon, and the financial crisis facing UNRWA, particularly its recent decisions to stop some of its programs, reduce services provided to Palestinian refugees and end contracts of some 1000 employees working on the emergency program in Gaza.
UNRWA spokesman Sami Mshasha said in a statement published on Thursday on the implications of funding shortfall on emergency services in the occupied Palestinian territories that following the largest ever reduction in funding UNRWA has faced with the US cuts, the humanitarian agency was left with no other choice but to carry out drastic cuts in employment and services.
He said that raising $238 million in new funding for Palestine refugees this year, and with the conclusion of the New York pledging conference on 25 June, the $446 deficit was reduced to $217 million, describing it as a monumental achievement.
However, he added, Our emergency assistance is critically under-funded in the occupied Palestinian territory, where the US contribution for emergency programming — almost $100 million per year — is no longer available and has forced us to take mitigating measures.
In the West Bank, and owing to the absence of emergency funding, UNRWA has decided to discontinue its Cash for Work activities effective July 31, affecting 154 employees.
At the same time, food voucher activities will continue until the end of 2018 affecting hundreds of refugee families among the most impoverished in the Palestinian territories.
The Bedouin community’s food assistance program will continue operating until the end of 2018, said the spokesman, and the Community Mental Health Program (CMHP) will be discontinued effective August 31.
In Gaza, in addition to terminating work contract of 1000 UNRWA employees last week, another 113 posts on emergency funding will not be renewed upon expiry of contract in August this year and around 280 staff will be redeployed on a full-time basis in existing or revised functions and approximately 584 staff will be offered part-time posts in existing or revised functions, said UNRWA.
The community mental health program, job creation program and protection functions are going to be altered. The community mental health program will continue, albeit at reduced capacity and cost. As of September 2018, mental health activities will be largely embedded within the health and education departments instead of a standalone program.
While all this is taking place, opening of the new school year on time remains in doubt affecting some half a million students getting education at UNRWA-run schools.
Source: Palestinian News & Info Agency