Helping provide stability in a region rocked time and again by crises – that is UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in Gaza, the West Bank and neighbouring countries. Since 1949, UNRWA has been charged by the UN General Assembly to assist Palestine refugees in the Near East. This mandate currently takes in some 5.3 million people, making UNRWA one of the United Nations’ largest and oldest programmes.
An uncertain funding situation
More than 90 percent of the Agency’s work is financed by voluntary pledges by donors. Time and again, a lack of pledges or pledges which are not carried through lead to shortfalls, some of which are severe. This means that UNRWA is unable to perform some of its important tasks.
The negative impact is felt immediately by the people affected when, for example, schools remain closed or health facilities reduce the services they provide. In 2018 alone, the UNRWA budget is currently facing a record shortfall of more than 400 million US dollars. At an international donor community conference in Rome this March, donors discussed possible ways to sustainably fund UNRWA.
What aid does UNRWA provide?
UNRWA has been supporting Palestine refugees in the Near East since 1949. The organisation, which since March 2014 has been headed by a Swiss, Pierre Krähenbühl, has many years of experience in the region and often retains access to those in need at a time when other aid organisations have had to cease their activities for security reasons. Additional UNRWA tasks have evolved as a result of the long conflict in Syria. That is because, alongside Syrian refugees, Palestine refugees living in Syria have also been forced to flee.
The projects run by UNRWA focus on education, especially providing training to young people, health and infrastructure. In addition, the Agency is doing innovative work in the domain of microfinance. Yet, given spiralling food prices paired with ongoing extremely high unemployment and widespread poverty, particularly in the Gaza Strip, classic food aid remains necessary.
German assistance for UNRWA
Germany is one of UNRWA’s long standing, reliable donors and underpins its financial commitment with political support. In 2017 alone, Germany made available more than 78 million euros – 42 million euros for humanitarian assistance such as food aid, as well as more than 36 million euros for development cooperation projects involving, for example, infrastructure and reconstruction. This means UNRWA can provide food packages to almost 400,000 people in need in Gaza in the period from May 2016 to June 2018, thus helping to meet people’s daily minimum calorie requirements. During his visit to Berlin, Commissioner-General Krähenbühl expressed his thanks for these efforts:
Germany has reliably supported our work over many decades. Furthermore, Germany is an important political partner who appreciates our contribution to stability in the region, particularly at this difficult time. We hope to now build on this successful cooperation with the new German Government.
The new Government coalition agreement underscores Germany’s commitment to UNRWA. In particular, Germany is campaigning – also in the EU – for reform and sustainable funding of the organisation. At the same time, as a member of the UNRWA Advisory Commission, Germany encourages other donors to stabilise and increase their financial commitment, so as to provide a firm and sustainable foundation for UNRWA’s work.