Egypt warns of humanitarian crisis if UNRWA funding gap not addressed

Ahram Online , Thursday 15 Mar 2018

From left, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Sameh Shoukry, Jordan, Ayman Safadi, and Sweden, Margot Wallstrom, pose for a family photo with United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, commissioner general Pierre Krahenbuhl, at the end of a conference, in Rome, Thursday, March 15, 2018 (Photo: AP)

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has warned of a looming humanitarian crisis if an unprecedented shortfall in funds at the UN agency for Palestinian refugees is not tackled.

Egypt, along with Jordan and Sweden, is co-hosting an emergency donor conference in Rome on Thursday to try to alleviate the shortfall, triggered by the US’ decision to cut part of its funding to the Palestinians in January.

Speaking at the event, Shoukry warned of instability and "a real humanitarian crisis unless concerted efforts are made by the international community to find a quick solution.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) provides health care, education and social services to an estimated 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

It is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member states, with the US being the largest contributor.

Washington had cleared only $60 million in funds for UNRWA for 2018, a drop from $360 million in 2017.

Shoukry said Thursday that a threat to UNRWA would "open the door to an extraordinary wave of instability" around the world and "undermine the prospects for a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."

He urged Washington to "continue to carry out its humanitarian and moral responsibilities towards Palestinian refugees in accordance with its international responsibilities as a superpower and as a key player in the peace process."

The agency on Thursday secured pledges of nearly $100 million from countries around the world, but still faces a massive challenge to deal with its severe budget shortfall of an estimated $446 million.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl had warned his agency would run out of funds in May.

The countries who have pledged to fund the organisation included France, Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, Qatar, Norway, New Zealand, South Korea, Mexico, Slovakia and India, he said.

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