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UAE urges world donors to fund UNRWA's programmes

posted on 03/11/2008: 930 views



The United Arab Emirates has urged all international donors to contribute to activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) so to enable it meets growing humanitarian needs of the Palestinian refugees.

The UAE also called on Israel to end its ongoing aggression towards Palestinian camps and to lift the blockade, as well as to end the restriction of free movement of UNRWA's staff so they could provide the urgent humanitarian assistance to the neediest refugees.

'UNRWA needed to be able to implement its operation in all areas of action without any discrimination. A comprehensive settlement of the question of Palestine must also include resolution of the refugees issue, ' said Al Sheikh Rahma Abdul Rahman Al Shamsi, member of the UAE delegation to the meeting of the UN Fourth Committee on Special Political and Decolonization, which began consideration of the work of UNRWA.

'The United Arab Emirates would continue to provide unlimited financial support to the humanitarian activities aimed at improving the plight of the affected Palestinians, he said, also reiterating his delegation's support for financing programmes to rehabilitate those infrastructures destroyed by Israeli aggressions. Financial institutions, such as the World Bank, must step up their contributions to UNRWA, in order for the Agency to meet the challenges and make up its financial shortfalls.

In that regard, he also appealed to donor countries to meet their pledges with respect to rebuilding the Nahr el-Bared camp in northern Lebanon, which affected 33,000 refugees. He reminded the Committee that his country had met its contribution with respect to reconstructing that camp, and charity organizations had supported the building of schools and hospitals.

The UAE representative said UNRWA had very clearly reported on the extremely dangerous and deteriorating humanitarian, health and social conditions faced by the populations they served.

'Those conditions, particularly in recent years due to the "inevitable results" of occupation and abuses perpetrated by the Israeli Government, included excessive violence, deliberate extra judiciary executions, collective punishment, bombings, curfews and border closings, especially in the Gaza Strip, where basic humanitarian rights were violated, such as the right to food and medicine,' he explained.

He said that public services had also been paralysed and there had been a lack of electricity and sanitation in hospitals and elsewhere.

Furthermore, he maintained, Israel continued its practices, such as military incursions into Palestinian Territory, and the ongoing construction of the wall, which had already cut off people in the West Bank from their natural water resources. People were prevented from their social and geographical contacts and denied a normal life -- prevented from attending school and work, or carrying out their daily errands. As such, they had suffered the lack of jobs, disease and epidemics, particularly in the Palestinian refugee camps, where international statistics indicated that, since 2000, 65 per cent of families had lost more than 50 per cent of their daily incomes.

'Poverty indicators said the percentage of people in the occupied territories who were living below the poverty threshold had increased from 50 per cent in 2005 to 57 per cent in 2006. Additionally, 80 per cent of those living below the poverty line lived in "abject poverty".

'Israelis had targeted, not only Palestinians and their property, but also UNRWA's security staff working in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and had diminished their ability to carry out their social, educational and health programmes aimed at helping the refugees and providing them with their basic needs.

He robustly condemned those Israeli offences and appealed to the international community to shoulder its moral and legal responsibilities to prevail upon Israel to end its aggressions and offences against the Palestinian people in the occupied territories and refugee camps.

'Israel must lift all obstacles against UNRWA and humanitarian supply programmes. That was within the framework if Israel's responsibilities according to international law, in general, and the 1967 Comay-Michelmore Agreement, in particular, as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention,' the UAE envoy concluded.

The Agency's head said the depth of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the West Bank over the past two years dwarfed earlier calamities and carried alarming economic and human costs.

Calling UNRWA a "first responder" to crises in the Middle and a source of protection for the refugee community, Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd said that UNRWA was shouldering the major burden of providing humanitarian assistance in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. More than four and a half million refugees were voluntarily registered with the Agency, representing an increase of 30 per cent from a decade ago.

She said contributions had still not kept pace with increased refugee needs and the Agency's funding gap remained large and could increase. In fact, pledges received represented only 80 per cent of the funding requirement and rising food and energy costs had further aggravated the economic squeeze on the Agency. Given the global economic turmoil, it might be tempting to cut aid, but that would be short-sighted and self-defeating in light of the heavy investment already made.

Indeed, despite the current challenges, the Agency continued to make an indispensable contribution to the refugees' human development, she said. It was giving food aid to approximately 1 million people and had initiated a school feeding programme for 198,000 pupils in Gaza after hunger started affecting their educational performance. It also employed close to 13,000 jobless refugees each month on short-term contracts.

Highlighting the Agency's achievements in the educational arena, she said primary enrolment among Palestine refugees was almost universal and exceeded the Middle East average. Roughly 480,000 pupils were enrolled in UNRWA schools and 5,000 older students enrolled in nine technical and vocational training centres. Demand for the latter was so great that, if it had the resources, the Agency could provide training for at least five times as many students.

At the same time, 9 million patients were provided medical consultations in 128 health clinics -- at an average of 24,000 per day. Immunization coverage was nearly universal and 100,000 infants were vaccinated annually.

By the end of 2007, UNRWA had received US$142 million, or approximately 58 per cent of the emergency funding requested. – Emirates News Agency, WAM

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