UNRWA to Possibly Suspend Education Program Due to Financial Burdens

West Bank, Occupied Territories (IMEMC) – The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, has warned in a report addressed to the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, that “unless funding for the full amount of the Agency’s General Fund shortfall of $101 million is secured by the middle of August, the financial crisis may force the suspension of services relating to the Agency’s education program”.

“This would mean a delay in the school year for half a million students attending some 700 schools and 8 vocational training centers across the Middle East,” the report adds.

The report states, according to WAFA, that “as things currently stand, with stringent austerity and management measures having been put in place, the Agency should just about be able to continue with services that are life-saving, protect the most vulnerable refugees from extreme hardship, and maintain public health and safety until the end of the year.”

The agency said it will nevertheless be able to continue to run its health program, as well as assistance to impoverished families through the relief and social services program, sanitation, and emergency activities.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl expressed grave concern that the “measures may be required at a time when the Agency’s services remain essential to Palestine refugees, their rights and their dignity, and when education has been globally recognized as essential to overall human development.”

He said it was “of particular concern that such measures could be necessary at a time of growing instability throughout the Middle East and when the role of UNRWA is increasingly significant.”

The Commissioner-General underlined that in presenting this report, the Agency is seeking to draw attention at the highest levels of the international community to the consequences for Palestine refugee children: “Nothing is more important for these children in terms of their dignity and identity than the education they receive. We are simply not allowed to let them down.”

The special report goes on to set out proposals for putting UNRWA on more secure financial footing in future years. These include an emergency flash appeal, a pledging conference in October to secure funding for 2016 and a discussion involving United Nations member states that will lead to sustainable funding for UNRWA.

UNRWA, which is the only source of livelihood for thousands of refugee families in Gaza, has in recent months experienced an unprecedented financial crisis.

On January 27, the international group declared it was forced to suspend its cash assistance program in Gaza to tens of thousands of people for repairs to damaged and destroyed homes and for rental subsidies to the homeless.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East building shelled by Israelis in 2009. Image Source: ISM photographer in Palestine. International Solidarity Movement.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East building shelled by Israelis in 2009.
Image Source: ISM photographer in Palestine. International Solidarity Movement.

It said that while $720 million is required for rental subsidies and repairs to over 96,000 Palestinian refugee families, whose homes were damaged or destroyed during last summer’s conflict, UNRWA so far received only $135 million in pledges, leaving a shortfall of $585 million.