The emergency situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has doubled the burden on UNRWA’s already strained budget, an official of the UN's struggling Palestinian relief agency told the Jordan Times.
"The West Bank and Gaza situation has put additional heavy demands on the agency...We've reached a point where we cannot stretch resources anymore," UNRWA Commissioner General Peter Hansen told reporters at the end of a two-day informal meeting for the agency’s major donors and host countries.
Hansen said the agency's envisioned deficit for this year amounted to $70 million, with an additional deficit of $30 million for the agency's project money, which was used to cover emergency demands in Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank.
The overburdened agency was established in 1950 to assist Palestinian refugees who were forced to flee their homeland during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
It offers basic health, educational and other relief services to around 3.5 million refugees scattered in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
During the informal meeting, Hansen stressed the need to deal with the $70 million deficit in this year's approved regular budget of $311 million, said the paper.
He said the agency's cash flow forecast for this year was such that without additional funds, it would run out of cash by October.
"UNRWA is the vehicle which carries and delivers the humanitarian programs. The crisis we face, however, is that the vehicle cannot any longer be maintained adequately due to absence of resources...to keep it going," Hansen said, adding that the crisis was affecting the agency's services and infrastructure.
"There is a real and serious crisis for the agency's regular and general fund budget...we have already exhausted the scope for austerity measures," he told the Jordan Times.
Hansen said there was a need to increase donations by donor countries and expand the agency's donor base to include many more countries.
He added that UNRWA would launch its third emergency appeal to support the agency's activities and help alleviate part of the suffering and losses incurred since the beginning of the second Palestinian Intifada last September.
The third appeal, expected to be launched by June, will fund the agency until the end of the year, the paper said.
UNRWA's first emergency appeal of $39.1 million over a three-month-span was fully funded, while its second appeal for $37.2 million was only partly paid.
"If we continue at the same rate of funding, we could face an additional $75 million deficit by the end of the year. By this time, the deficit will amount to around $140 million," he added.
Hansen said the emergency appeals had enabled the agency to extend health services, food parcels, cash assistance and job creation programs to those affected by the Israeli aggression in the West Bank and Gaza.
UNRWA officials were quoted by the paper as saying that not only had the number of fatalities and casualties grown, but there had also been a drastic worsening in the economic and living conditions of the Palestinian population, particularly among refugees – Albawaba.com
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