UNRWA Launches Another Emergency Appeal

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) convened a meeting in Amman on 22 February 2001, launching a new emergency appeal for more than $37 million in urgent funding to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees over the next three months. According to the Agency, the Israeli aggression in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, over the past 5 months, as well as Israelís punitive closures and restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and goods in the West Bank and Gaza, have worsened the already grave living conditions of Palestine refugees.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen stressed the severity of the situation, marked by an increasing number of Palestinian fatalities and injuries, as a result of Israelís excessive use of force, and the rapidly declining socioeconomic living conditions of the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territory, particularly among Palestine refugees. Whereas the Palestinian unemployment rate in the past had been around 11%, the rate has now increased to more than 50% in Gaza and slightly below that in the West Bank, precipitating a crisis situation of deepening poverty for more Palestinians. In addition to the problem of unemployment, the Palestinian agricultural sector has sustained extensive damage as a result of the destruction of orchards and uprooting of palm and olive trees by the occupying forces, damages that are estimated to take more than 5 years to recover. Further, according to the World Bank, since September 2000 the Palestinian Authority has experienced losses of more than 1 billion dollars, with losses continuing to climb at a rate of 8-12 million a day.

In seeking to address the serious economic deterioration, Mr. Hansen recently urged donors to help finance a program for generating jobs for the Palestinians most affected by the Israeli closures. The funds, according to UNRWA, would go towards job opportunities for the 325,000 Palestinians who have lost their jobs since September. These opportunities would aim to benefit their communities, including work in repairing homes and infrastructure damaged by the ongoing shelling and shooting.

At the donor meeting, the Commissioner-General also discussed the main obstacles facing UNRWA in providing emergency humanitarian assistance, namely the Israeli closures and restrictions on the movement of persons and goods, including humanitarian supplies. In addition to the serious damage caused to the Palestinian economy, these strict closures have impeded the services of the Agency. As stated by Mr. Hansen, "We are hoping that Israel will realize that itís not in the interest of the people of the region, including the Israelis, to maintain a situation where humanitarian assistance cannot be extended to everybody that needs it." This was reaffirmed by the participants in the meeting, including representatives of major donor countries and host governments, who stressed the importance of unobstructed mobility of Agency personnel, goods and services.