UN agency arranges work for Gazans

US$2m will help get 13,000 Palestinians into jobs after a funding deal was signed in Dubai.

Karen KoningAbuZayd, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency commissioner general, speaks during a donor conference about Gaza and southern Lebanon.
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DUBAI // Donations from the UAE are to help thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip into work thanks to a deal agreed upon in Dubai. The UN's Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), has been given US$2.55 million (Dh9.37m) from the Arab Authority for Agricultural Investment (AAAID) to help create jobs for almost 2,500 Palestinians, mainly in farming and fishing. Karen Koning Abu Zayd, commissioner general for the agency, said: "Job creation in Gaza is extremely important now. More and more people are unemployed. They are desperate for jobs rather than handouts and this will allow us to provide jobs for six-month periods. "Gaza is suffering from economic collapse. Businesses have collapsed, even NGOs are unable to operate. Unless you're working with the UNRWA or the government it is very difficult." The agency estimates at least 150,000 of the 1.4m Gazans are registered as in need of work, while some studies suggest the unemployment rate is at least 50 per cent. The deal was signed on Sunday by Mrs Abu Zayd and AAAID president Abdul Kareem al Amri, at the agency's regional office in Dubai. Mrs Abu Zayd said the UAE was generally one of the UNRWA's largest Arab donors, providing $1m each year to its general fund alongside numerous other donations by NGOs, the Red Crescent Authority and individual sheikhs. The agreement also provides $250,000 to assist with the reconstruction of the southern Lebanon - the front line of the Israel-Hizbollah war of 2006 and home to 100,000 Palestinian refugees. Mrs Abu Zayd said most of the reconstruction efforts had concentrated on the Nahr al-Bared camp near Tripoli in northern Lebanon, which was devastated in a 2007 battle between militants from a group identified as Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army. "That means the spotlight has been taken away from the south of the country where people are also suffering following the war [with Israel]," she said. The UAE is one of 16 Arab countries signed to the AAAID, which was established in 1976 with an authorised collective fund of more than half a billion dollars, to be used to develop and maximise agricultural food production in member states. Yesterday's agreement also included a contribution of $300,000 for a joint UNRWA/UN Food and Agriculture Organisation project aimed at starting new farms and developing agriculture in southern Lebanon. The UNRWA hopes to return to the UAE to discuss possible financial support for the rebuilding of the Nahr al-Bared camp for an estimated 27,000 people who have been forced out. Mrs Abu Zayd said the rebuilding of the camp would cost $282m. So far $40m has been collected, mostly from western governments. "Arab states have promised they would meet to discuss this project but so far they haven't come up with any pledges," she said. "We are able to get started this year with de-mining but in the meantime we are still having to fund the refugees' rent, take care of their schools and provide them with food." She said the UN agency needed $42m to cover basic costs during the next 16 months while the project was completed. "We have received $4.3m from the US which will take us to the end of the year," she said. "But without more support this would be a major catastrophe." loatway@thenational.ae