United Nations — The United States is donating $70 million to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for its 1998 programs, according to an announcement made December 2.
Voicing the U.S. “strong support for UNRWA,” U.S. delegate Allen Jury announced the U.S. contribution to the agency’s regular budget during a pledging conference in the General Assembly.
The U.S. contribution “is specifically in support of UNRWA’s core programs of education, health, and social services benefiting the approximately 3.4 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon,” Jury said.
The conference raised pledges totaling $125,677,700, but UNRWA said that the amount is less than 40 percent of what the agency will need to maintain its regular education, health, relief and social services programs in 1998. UNRWA had a deficit of over $50 million in 1997.
The largest pledges were made by the United States, Sweden ($19 million), Norway ($14.2 million) and the Netherlands and Switzerland ($5.5 million each).
Jury said that UNRWA’s ability to make “quick and demonstrable progress” in developing effective strategies for the future programs “will be one factor the U.S. will consider in deciding how much more money beyond the $70 million” Washington will be able to give UNRWA later in the year.
Following is the text of Jury’s remarks:
Mr. Chairman, the United States welcomes the opportunity to again voice our strong support for UNRWA and to acknowledge the critical humanitarian role it plays on a daily basis in the lives of Palestinian refugees. We commend UNRWA as well for the important contribution it makes to the international community’s ongoing efforts to find a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
I am therefore pleased today to announce a voluntary contribution from the United States of $70 million toward UNRWA’s Regular Program Budget for 1998. This money is specifically in support of UNRWA’s core programs of education, health and social services benefiting the approximately 3.4 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. As we have stressed at previous gatherings, the United States hopes that UNRWA will do all it can to ensure that, in this era of resource limitations, donor contributions are directed to the agency’s highest priority activities, especially those which benefit the most vulnerable members of the refugee population.
It goes without saying that UNRWA continues to face serious financial and budgetary problems, problems which have resulted a now almost predictable cycle of crisis. As UNRWA’s largest donor, the United States has a very real stake in ensuring that UNRWA address the problems it faces in a comprehensive and fair manner which ensures the agency’s future financial stability. It serves neither donor, host government nor refugee interests to see UNRWA continue to experience the financial turmoil which, I am sad to say, has grown so familiar in recent years.
We recognize that breaking the cycle of crisis will not be easy, that divergent points of view inevitably will emerge, and that no one course of action will ever have unanimous support. Nevertheless, the United States believes firmly that very real and sustained progress must be made quickly or we will soon find ourselves in an even more difficult situation than we are now.
In our view, UNRWA’s recurring financial crises are not solely the result of lack of adequate resources provided to the organization. UNRWA itself, in dialogue with its major supporters, should develop a stronger policy planning capacity that articulates an effective strategic vision for the future. Such a vision should inspire confidence among donors and host governments and align the agency’s program priorities and implementation more closely to realistic projections of available resources. UNRWA’s ability to make quick and demonstrable progress in developing such a vision will be one factor the U.S. will consider in deciding how much more money, beyond the $70 million announced today, it will be able to contribute to UNRWA later in the year.
The United States therefore welcomes Commissioner General Hansen’s plan to establish a policy planning unit in UNRWA headquarters. We further welcome his interest, as expressed at the October UNRWA Advisory Committee meeting in Amman, in working with donors and host governments to further augment UNRWA’s staff capacity to address long-term program and budget planning issues. The United States stands ready to provide an expert to further strengthen UNRWA’s planning capacity. We urge the Commissioner-General to provide interested governments as soon as possible a comprehensive proposal as to what expert staff augmentation UNRWA would like so we can all work together cooperatively to try to meet your needs. Only by working together, speaking frankly, making honest evaluations of the choices and opportunities available to us, and, most importantly, taking action when action is needed, can we realistically expect to solve these very real problems which lie before us.