UN Palestinian refugee agency warns of cash shortage

The head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees warned Tuesday that a funding squeeze could jeopardise access to basic services for millions.

UNRWA provides services such as health, sanitation, education and social assistance to nearly six million Palestinians registered in the Palestinian territories, including Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

It is the latest in a series of warnings from UNRWA on possible deep cuts if the international community fails to provide more support.

In January, it appealed for $1.6 billion in funding for 2023, but donors have only pledged around half of that amount.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said Tuesday his agency was seeking $300 million “to keep our operations running between now and the end of the year”.

“If we have no more commitment from member states, we will hit the wall” from autumn, he told a press conference in Beirut.

The agency needs $200 million for “core activities” including education and social safety nets, $75 million for food aid in the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, and around $20 million in cash assistance to refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, he said.

There is a “risk of a vacuum in the absence of any proper alternative” to UNRWA’s “state-like” services, he said.

“Once we reach an inflection point it will be very difficult to reverse it.”

UNRWA has long faced chronic budget shortfalls, with the agency “in crisis-mode for about 10 years”, according to Lazzarini.

He said refugees in Lebanon, crippled by a three-year-long economic collapse, have been hit particularly hard.

The agency advertised 14 jobs for garbage collectors and “received 37,000 applications”, including many candidates with university degrees, Lazzarini said.

UNRWA has previously warned that its needs have been skyrocketing as global crises, inflation and disruptions in global supply chains contributed to surging poverty and unemployment levels among Palestinians.

“We fear to reach a point where the agency cannot cover salaries anymore for 30,000 employees in the region,” Lazzarini added.

“Sooner or later our ability to deliver services will come to an end,” he warned.

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