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UNRWA faces ‘worst financial crisis in memory’

Palestinians gather at the UNRWA building during a demonstration in Gaza City, Gaza on 17 September 2019 [Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency]
Palestinians gather at the UNRWA building during a demonstration in Gaza City, Gaza on 17 September 2019 [Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency]

The Acting Commissioner-General of UNRWA said on Monday that the Agency is confronted by “one of the worst financial crises in memory.” Christian Saunders told the Advisory Commission to UNRWA in Jordan that, “We are basically out of cash and need your urgent support not only with what remains for this year in mind, but also for next year, 2020.”

The UN Relief and Works Agency provides essential services to 5.3 million Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Its finances took a major hit when the US withdrew all funding to the Agency last year, creating a $360m hole in the budget. UNRWA relies almost entirely on voluntary donations from UN member states.

“The contribution freeze triggered by the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] investigation has created deep uncertainty for the agency,” explained Saunders. “We urgently need some clarity about steps needed for the release of pending contributions, or to make new pledges for 2019, and about timelines.”

The Agency, he told delegates is in new territory. “Last year we overcame a $446m shortfall through generous increases in your support. Today, we need $167m to finish out the year. Our shortfall is significantly larger than this, but this is what we need for survival.”

Saunders pointed out that UNRWA was barely able to pay the November payroll, and that was only possible through a short-term loan from UN headquarters of $30m which needs to be repaid before the end of the year.

READ: UNRWA receives new funding from UAE

“Once again December will be difficult and our cash flow situation will again be critical. We must find a way together to make it through December, and I ask for your advice and assistance today about how we can do that.” He also asked for advice and assistance about what UNRWA can expect in the first quarter of next year. “Unless significant 2020 pledges are paid in January we will be in just as severe a crisis as we are today.”

In conclusion, the Acting Commissioner-General said: “Together, we also share responsibilities in ensuring our services are sustained without interruption for the millions of refugees who rely on them. In a few weeks we may face service ruptures in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank including East Jerusalem. We cannot let it come to that. So, I ask you again, today, for the support we need to fulfil our mandate, and your mandate.”

US decision to cut UNRWA funding - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

US decision to cut UNRWA funding – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

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