The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) appealed Friday for 330.7 million dollars to fund its operations in 2002.
Peter Hansen, Commissioner General of UNRWA, told a pledging conference of major donor countries here that the September 11 attacks on the United States and events in Afghanistan had added to the agency's burden.
"There is an ever greater need for the international community to provide the refugees with the sense of security that contributes to stability in the community," he said.
Hansen explained that although the new budget amount was 19 million dollars higher than in 2001, "it represents in fact a decline in real terms when inflation and the rapidly growing refugee population are taken into account."
The total Palestinian refugee population was expected to exceed four million in the course of next year, he said.
Of the total, about 1.4 million live in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, while the others are in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
The impact of population growth and years of austerity and funding shortfalls had forced the agency to limit its expenses and cut services to the refugees in recent years, Hansen added.
"One illustrative example of this", he said, "is the annual need for an additional 11,000 places for new students in UNRWA schools in Gaza alone."
In Jordan, 93 percent of UNRWA schools run on double shifts and classroom sizes have reached 50 pupils per class, Hansen said.
"Numerous school buildings, for example, have become dilapidated, requiring use of rented premises which are themselves substandard and do not provide an adequate learning environment for youth," he explained.
UNRWA has five main fields of work: education, health, relief and social services, new projects and income generation.
Some three generations of refugees have passed through UNRWA schools, medical and social services. UNRWA's staff numbers more than 22,000, almost all of whom are Palestine refugees.
Hansen nevertheless expressed relief at an improvement in the level of contributions to UNRWA's regular budget in the closing months of 2001, taking income to 285 million dollars by the end of November.
"I have received very encouraging news from the European Commission about their plan to raise their contribution to our regular budget by 45 percent," he said.
Last year, UNRWA had a deficit of 38.7 million dollars out of an approved budget of 300.8 million.
"The agency's biennial budget for 2002-2003 is at the level of 674.8 million dollars. This figure represents the minimum allocation consistent with the maintenance of the quality and extent of the agency's services in its five fields of operation", Hansen said.
In order to reassure major donors, he said he would continue his efforts to expand the agency's donor base -- AFP
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )