Price rises linked to the Ukraine war have left millions of Palestinian refugees “hanging by a thread” and are deepening financial pressures on the main organisation caring for them, its head said on Monday.
Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), told reporters in Amman that the organisation's food procurements costs have risen in some cases by 60 per cent this year.
“This is a significant increase related to the overall financial and economic situation, which is fuelled by the crisis in Ukraine,” Mr Lazzarini said, after a meeting of representatives from 29 countries that comprise Unrwa's advisory board.
UNRWA needs $50 million to $80m to keep functioning for the next six weeks until the end of the year, he said.
“An increasing number of Palestinian refugees feel like they are hanging by a thread. We have also donors who are struggling,” he said.
Mr Lazzarini said that it is becoming increasingly difficult to mobilise donor countries in relation to the “protracted and forgotten” Israeli-Palestinian conflict when many of them are worrying about their internal situation.
He pointed out that 40 per cent of Gaza's schoolchildren are skipping breakfast. More than half of the 2 million population of the occupied territory are dependent on Unrwa’s food aid, compared with 80,000 in 2007.
He said Palestinian refugees in Lebanon “have hit rock bottom with almost every Palestinian refugee living at the poverty line.”
It is “the same tragedy, same misery” in Syria, with some of the refugees going back to the rubble of shelled camps because they cannot afford to live anywhere else.
“In Jordan refugees are among those who paid the highest price for the economic crisis and Covid-19. Poverty is also on the rise,” he said.
One positive sign, he said, has been a $27m donation to UNRWA from Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, after years of low contributions from Arab countries.
This was still lower than some western countries' donations, particularly the US, which restored funding for UNRWA last year after it was severed under the Trump administration.
Washington donates $340m a year to UNRWA, making it the agency's largest contributor. The US was instrumental in founding the organisation in 1949.
The agency manages more than 700 schools for half a million mostly Palestinian girls and boys in the Levant.
It also provides health care for two million Palestinians, as well giving social assistance to those Mr Lazzarini described as “the poorest among the poor”.