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UNRWA budget shortfall stands at $151m as agency hits new roadblocks

Agency warns deficit to impact services to 5.2 million Palestine refugees

By Elizabeth Turnbull - Aug 01,2019 - Last updated at Aug 02,2019

A Palestinian man transports bags of flour outside an aid distribution centre run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the central Gaza Strip refugee camp of Bureij on Wednesday (AFP photo)

AMMAN — The United Nation's Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East's (UNRWA) current budget shortfall stands at $151 million, following a pledging conference in New York in June, according to an UNRWA spokesperson.

"If such aid isn’t delivered then it will impact the services for the 5.2 million Palestine refugees in the region and will disrupt vital education, relief and health services for them as well as possible instability in host countries," UNRWA Acting Public Information Officer at the Jordan Field Office Amjad Obaid told The Jordan Times on Thursday.

The organisation is hoping to bridge this shortfall and close it to ensure continuity of services until the end of 2019, according to Obaid.

In addition to facing a crisis after the US cut funding to the organisation in 2018, the agency faces new obstacles after an internal ethics report presented allegations of ethical abuses at the highest levels of the organisation, according to the AFP.

Recent reports say The Netherlands and Switzerland have suspended aid to UNRWA due to “ethical concerns” about the agency, according to a report by the United Press International.

UNRWA’s total annual budget of $1.2 billion covers the programmes and emergency budgets for its five fields of operation, including Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, according to Obaid.

Some 532,000 students are enrolled in 708 schools operated by UNRWA, all of which have been operational since the agency’s establishment, Obaid added. 

“The agency will exert every possible effort to ensure schools open on time for Palestine refugee students in the five fields of operation,” Obaid said.

In addition to providing education, UNRWA’s budget is spent to ensure that health, relief and other types of support continue to be met, while the emergency budget is needed to cover urgent situations in both Gaza and Syria and provide programme services in these fields, according to Obaid.

At the pledging conference held on June 25, UNRWA expressed its gratitude for donations, some of which exceeded $110 million, while UN Secretary General António Guterres urged the international community to “rise to the challenge and empower UNRWA to continue its important and impressive work”, according to an UNRWA press release.

Since the conference, the United Arab Emirates announced a $50 million contribution to the agency and Kuwait offered $5 million, in addition to contributions from China and Austria, according to the agency’s website.

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