Arab Donations Boost Aid Prospects in Palestinian Territories

JERUSALEM – UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, is cautiously optimistic that international donations for emergency relief work in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) will be more generous this year than last.

"We are running slightly ahead of last year’s emergency appeal for the oPt, in large part due to an increase in Arab donations, particularly for Gaza," said, Peter Ford, an UNRWA official involved in funding issues, adding that this was "encouraging".

UNRWA officials said the agency’s emergency appeal for the oPt for 2007 had only been about 55 percent funded, adding to the problem of rising costs. In 2008, the agency would need about US$68 million just to feed the refugees in Gaza.

However, there was a chance that this year more needs would be met, Ford told IRIN.

A US$4 million donation from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will help the UN feed some 650,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip, as the rising costs of delivering food begin to affect the vulnerable population.

The UAE donation, set to finance the purchase of food items defined by UNRWA as "urgently required", was divided into two parts, as $3 million came from the government while another $1 million came from the Khalifa Bin Zayed Foundation.

Karen Abu Zayd, the head of UNRWA, thanked Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed, the president of the UAE, saying that the contributions would "help us feed thousands of refugee families in Gaza who are suffering under the burdens of exile, poverty and blockade".

Rising Costs

In 2004 UNRWA spent about US$8 per refugee every two months in Gaza, but now the cost has risen to $19 to provide the same 60 percent of their caloric needs.

The hike is associated with the global rise in food prices – along with access problems which force the agency to pay more in transportation costs and for palletising the goods to get the same amount of aid into the enclave.

Accordingly, UNRWA had to remove about 200,000 Gazans out of 850,000 from its list of food aid recipients, though these were all refugees who have incomes from the Palestinian Authority (PA), said Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for UNRWA. He said he thought these were all refugees who had started to receive full incomes from the PA recently after an 18-month period without such payments, during the time Hamas headed the PA.

Gaza’s population is just under 1.5 million, and of these 1.1 million are UNWRA-registered refugees.

Gunness said the agency had to give priority to families (about 650,000 people) without a regular income earner as well as the feeding programmes taking place in UNRWA schools.

Flow of Goods

The amount of commodities going into Gaza remains lower than needed. "There has been a slight improvement in the number of trucks getting into Gaza, but this remains much fewer than required in contrast with Gaza’s need," Gunness told IRIN, adding: "The situation in Gaza is continuing to deteriorate and we have insufficient funding to meet the most basic humanitarian needs."

An Israeli military spokesman told IRIN that on most working days, barring times when there are specific security incidents, dozens of aid or commercial trucks carrying basic supplies make it into the Gaza Strip. For example, on 6 April, 76 trucks containing food and other items – like books and wheelchairs – were allowed in, and on 3 April about 100 trucks entered the enclave.

Aid workers said the current rates were about a quarter of the amounts allowed in before the Hamas takeover of the enclave in June last year, which were already low as reductions in the quantities getting to Gaza began in early 2006, after the Islamist group’s election victory.

(IRIN News)

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