UNRWA announced Monday a significant reduction in its international staff, and warned of further “difficult decisions” should serious funding problems not be remedied.
In a statement from Jerusalem, UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness revealed that 85 percent of all 137 international personnel on short term contracts will be let go in two phases by the end of September.
“UNRWA is taking this measure to reduce costs as much as possible without reducing services to refugees”, read the statement. The agency is struggling with a US$101 million deficit to the end of the year, and has already implemented “stringent austerity measures”.
While “life-saving services” such as “health programmes, relief and social services, sanitation” and certain “emergency projects” are safe, there was a warning that the UNRWA school system serving half a million children across the Middle East could be at risk “if the deficit is not filled.”
As the UN noted in a parallel news item, in addition to ongoing emergencies in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, UNRWA faces a “dire situation” for its emergency funding; the Syria appeal, for example, “currently stands at only 27 per cent met.”
Financial support for UNRWA “has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees and deepening poverty.” The agency’s general fund thus “operates with a large deficit”, while “emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large deficits, are funded through separate funding portals.”