UNRWA Chief Fears ‘Disaster’ in Gaza as Funding Runs Dry

UNRWA has been helping Palestinian refugees since 1949. (Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle)

The “worst financial crisis” ever faced by the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees could lead to “disaster” in the Gaza Strip and insecurity in Lebanon, the organization’s chief has warned.

Founded in 1949, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) runs schools and provides health services as well as other humanitarian aid to an estimated 5.7 million Palestinians with refugee status.

“It is in the interest of no one to see schools suddenly suspended… health services being suspended (in Gaza), at a time when people are hit by the (coronavirus) pandemic,” the agency’s chief Philippe Lazzarini told AFP.

“It would be a total disaster,” he added, in an interview conducted by videoconference on Sunday.

Last week, Lazzarini announced that UNRWA faced a $70 million funding shortfall that has jeopardized its ability to pay staff full salaries in November and December.

The shortfall affects 28,000 staffers – mostly refugees themselves – across the Israeli-occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Jordan.

The situation is particularly critical in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave of two million people where the unemployment rate is over 50 percent and where the novel coronavirus crisis has led authorities to slash public sector salaries.

“This population is entirely dependent on international assistance,” Lazzarini said, warning that the suspension of UNRWA programs could have a “devastating” economic and security impact.

Gaza, with a population of 2 million, has been under a hermetic Israeli siege since 2006, when the Palestinian group Hamas won the democratic legislative elections in occupied Palestine. Since then, Israel has carried out numerous bombing campaigns and several major wars, that resulted in the death of thousands of people. 

(Palestine Chronicle, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, Social Media)

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