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UNRWA slashes budget shortfall dramatically after Gulf, EU contributions

By Ana V. Ibáñez Prieto - Nov 19,2018 - Last updated at Nov 19,2018

DEAD SEA — UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl on Monday announced that the UN agency has managed to slash its budget deficit despite US funding cuts earlier this year, thanking several Arab Gulf and European Union countries for their “generous” contributions. 

The announcement came during a press conference held in parallel to UNRWA’s second Advisory Commission Meeting of 2018, where the official addressed the latest developments on the situation of the agency and the Palestinian refugees in its five fields of operations.

"You are all aware of how difficult this year has been for UNRWA — in particular following the unexpected decision by the US to cut $300 million this year of UNRWA's income," Krähenbühl told attendees, recalling that at the start of 2018, the UN agency faced a $446 million budget shortfall.

After mobilising to tackle the unprecedented financial crisis caused by the US cuts, the UN agency has now reduced the shortfall to $21 million, Krähenbühl said during the press conference, expressing his gratefulness for Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar for plugging the deficit with contributions of $50 million each.

“Their combined contribution amounts to half of the total budget we have managed to mobilise this year,” the official continued, noting that aid also poured in from the European Union.

Although not officially declared by the US administration, the cuts came after the Palestinian leadership refused to meet US Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to the region, and rejected any future role for the US in the peace process following US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

UNRWA’s economic crisis worsened in August this year, when Trump announced the US decision to slash the entirety of Washington’s aid to the UN agency. 

When asked about the impact of UNWRA’s financial crisis in the Kingdom, director of UNRWA operations in Jordan, Roger Davies, told The Jordan Times that “at stake is the education of 122,000 children enrolled in 171 schools around the country, as well as the education of around 4,000 young men and women enrolled in our two vocational centres and teachers training college”.

But despite the financial challenges, all UNRWA schools in East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria managed to open on time for the start of the school year in September. 

“Although this guarantees the continuation of our support to the Palestinian people in the short term, we are hoping to rely on multiyear payments in the future,” he added, explaining that “this kind of support would enable us [UNRWA] to plan with precision in the upcoming years”.

The official also stressed that some 440,000 Palestinian refugees continue to suffer from “dramatic circumstances” in Syria, noting that UNRWA is “currently focusing on the continuation of services such as healthcare and education, but also paying attention to the operations that would enable the return of the internally displaced Palestinian refugees in Syria”. 

The commissioner closed his speech thanking all donors for their “respect and recognition” of the Palestinian people in all areas of UNRWA operations, expressing his “deep appreciation” for their solidarity during the “extremely critical year”.

The official also thanked Palestinian refugees for their “resilence and patience”, pledging to “not allow for the Palestinian people to lose their dignity, and to make their worries, hopes and aspirations heard in the international community”.

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