UN Palestinian refugee agency receives $110 million in funding pledges

Donations made at UN headquarters in New York will be used to plug deficit

FILE - In this Sept. 3, 2018 file photo, Palestinian refugee students stand outside a classroom as they wait to attend a ceremony to mark the return to school of a new year at one of the UNRWA schools, in Beirut, Lebanon. The head of the U.N. agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees says it is mobilizing to replenish a $211 million shortfall in the face of U.S. funding cuts. Pierre Kraehenbuehl said Monday, June 17, 2019, in Jordan that UNRWA will start running out of money if it does not receive significant commitments at its pledging conference next week. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
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The UN agency for Palestinian refugees received pledges of $110 million on Tuesday, which its top official said would allow schools, hospitals and food distribution to be maintained in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria during summer.

The agency, UNRWA, needed to raise $1.2 billion at the event at UN headquarters in New York, compared with $40m pledged last year.

But a cash crisis means that the agency will soon run out of money again.

“We are not out of the woods by any stretch,” said Pierre Krahenbuhl, the agency’s commissioner general.

Mr Krahenbuhl said the amounts offered were new and not part of past pledges.

The agency’s funding situation is complicated because donor countries pay sums at different times of the year.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia were among countries and organisations that increased their donations from last year, as did the EU, Germany, France and Britain.

The pledging conference follows a turbulent year in the agency’s operations, after the US abruptly ended its support in 2018.

The White House criticised the UN organisation’s methods and effectiveness, at a time when the political process between the Palestinian leadership and Israel deteriorated.

The agency was established in 1950 and now runs 708 schools for more than half a million pupils in the Palestinian territories.

It provides health services at 144 clinics, which provided 8.5 million patient consultations last year.

In total, more than 5.4 million Palestinian refugees receive some type of support.

The US had previously been the agency’s biggest financial backer and, many agency officials say, its best partner in delivering assistance to Palestinian refugees in the region.

Mr Krahenbuhl said he expected several member states to announce their own pledges in coming days and months, rather than at the New York event.

But he said a catastrophe had been averted because major donors had supplemented their contributions and filled the funding gap over the past year.

“Never was your support more remarkable than in 2018,” Mr Krahenbuhl told members of UN delegations in New York.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres opened the event, appealing to countries to at least maintain their pledges.

Mr Guterres said many feared the worst a year ago but countries “stepped up” to ensure schools did not close, food did not run out and clinics remained open.

“It is tragic that a political solution has not yet been reached that satisfies the needs and aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis,” he said.

“In the meantime, the continued work of UNRWA should be viewed not only as our continued responsibility, but as our common success.”

After meeting its bills from January to May, the agency has been in deficit since the start of June.

Britain’s Minister for the Middle East, Andrew Murrison, said in London that funding would increase by almost $25m because refugees were under great pressure.

Mr Murrison said that in Gaza, food was often unaffordable because half of the population is unemployed.

“Today’s new UK aid package is a vital lifeline for Palestinian refugees, who are facing greater uncertainty than ever before,” he said.

“Our support will help UNRWA ensure families have enough to eat, providing basics such as flour, chickpeas and rice.

“It will also help to keep over half a million children in the classroom and provide essential access to health care for more than three million Palestinian refugees.”