The United States (US) announced yesterday that it will donate $99 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as the organisation suffers a major financial crisis.
According to the US State Department’s Population, Refugees, and Migrations Bureau, the funds will “provide education, health care, and emergency relief to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children and families during a time of need.”
The organisation currently offers its services to about 5.3 million Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
It has faced severe financial difficulties since the US administration of President Donald Trump stopped donations altogether in 2018. Though some of these funds have been reinstated, they have failed to fill the funding gap.
In an open letter last week, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said perennial budget shortfalls had forced the agency to introduce austerity measures, stretching the level of aid it could offer Palestinians to the limit.
“For close to a decade now, donor funding to the Agency has stagnated and remained below the amount needed to ensure the continuation of quality services. At the same time, the refugee population has continued to grow while poverty and vulnerabilities have skyrocketed. The financial crisis is of an existential nature,” he said.
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He added that the resumption of US funding was too little to make up for the deficit, with other donors pulling out.
The United Arab Emirates sharply reduced its funding of the body in 2020, an UNRWA spokesman revealed earlier this year. Sami Mshasha said that the UAE donated $51.8 million to UNRWA in 2018 and again in 2019, but in 2020 it gave the agency just $1 million.
Meanwhile the UK had more than halved its funds to UNRWA from £42.5 million ($57.2 million) in 2020 to £20.8 million ($28 million) in 2021. The UK was the third largest overall donor to UNRWA in 2020, but its latest cut puts it in the second tier of contributors.
Established in 1949 by the UN General Assembly, UNRWA mission is to help Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.