LONDON, Friday, November 05, 2021 (WAFA) – Cuts made during the recent years to the budget of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), including a halving of the UK annual contribution, means the agency is close to collapse, UNRWA Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini, has said.
Lazzarini was quoted by the British daily newspaper The Guardian as saying that the agency was in an existential crisis due to a $100m shortfall this year, but also because of a method of long-term funding that has proved unsustainable.
The UK was the third largest overall donor to UNRWA in 2020, but its latest cut starts to put the UK in the second tier of contributors. The agency operates about 700 schools catering for 550,000 children, and provides health centers and social welfare to Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
“It is a direct impact of this policy decision to reduce the aid budget from the equivalent of 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%,” Lazzarini was quoted by the British daily. “It has a humanitarian impact. It has a human development impact. We calculate the decrease in aid as the equivalent of more than 70,000 boys and girls in our schools.”
Lazzarini, who was in London to urge the Foreign Office to rethink the cuts, denied the organisation was bloated. “We have had the same resources as 2013, and yet over the years we have had many demands placed upon us, so we have had no other choice but to go for drastic austerity measures to keep services afloat,” he said.
He said the agency’s core $800m budget needed to be put on a more predictable footing and there would be a special conference in Brussels this month to urge donors to end the annual hand-to-mouth funding of the agency.
UNRWA was dealt a severe blow in 2018 when Donald Trump halted US funding, leaving other countries scrambling to plug the unexpected shortfall. But US re-engagement under Joe Biden has been offset by a lack of multi-year commitments so far from the Gulf states, and a decline from others such as the UK.
Lazzarini said further that the current funding model is leading the agency to collapse, and that it has become unstable that it poses an existential threat to the organization.
“Now at the beginning of November, I have nothing in my bank account. I don’t know how I will cover costs and salaries and that means thousands of teachers and thousands of health workers, and that means losing vital services in a very unstable environment.
“We started this year with a critical responsibility. I can’t print money. I can’t borrow money. All I can do is delay and build.”
Lazzarini said UNRWA is “irreplaceable” when it comes to providing education to Palestinian refugees. “It’s a good question what happens to these children if we can’t teach them, and schools are closed. There will be a void. We will enter into uncharted territory, and the question is who will fill that gap in places like Gaza, in refugee camps in Lebanon. We don’t have the answer.”
“It is not UNRWA that is perpetuating refugee statehood. Refugee statehood is perpetuated by the absence of a political solution, and there is no Palestinian, I promise you, that wants to remain a refugee after such a long time.”