International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy for the Reconstruction of Gaza

02 March 2009

Statement by UNRWA Commissioner-General

2 March 2009

Sharm El-Sheikh 

Your Excellencies:

I very much appreciate the opportunity to participate in this conference and to share with you UNRWA’s plans for the refugees of Gaza.

UNRWA’s mandate is to protect and assist Palestine refugees who comprise some 70% of Gaza’s residents. Our humanitarian and human development role, very much in evidence during the recent conflict, is central to our contribution to the recovery and reconstruction of Gaza. In demonstration of our firm belief in coordination and partnership, we have ensured convergence between our plans and those of the Palestinian Authority and will maximize the partnerships we share with sister UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.

The consequences of the recent conflict in Gaza are apparent in the human impact and the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure.

With the support of donors, UNRWA and its humanitarian partners are responding vigorously to the needs generated by the conflict. A nine-month Consolidated Gaza Flash Appeal for $613 million has been issued by OCHA. Our sister agencies, FAO, WFP, UNICEF, WHO, OHCHR, UNDP and UNMAS are requesting $287 million for agriculture, cash assistance, education, food security, health, protection, psycho-social, shelter and water and sanitation activities.

UNRWA’s component of the Flash Appeal is $326 million to fund these same services specifically for the 1.1 million refugees in Gaza.

UNRWA began implementing a Quick Recovery Plan immediately after the conflict, enabling 200,000 children to return to school within six days of the declaration of unilateral ceasefires. Our health clinics and food distribution centres never ceased functioning. Still, the refugee community has been rendered almost entirely aid dependent with one million refugees now receiving food assistance.

For medium-term reconstruction beyond the initial recovery phase, quality primary education is the refugees’ and UNRWA’s top priority. The cumulative effects of occupation, closures and armed conflict have precipitated near-collapse in education standards in Gaza. We hope to eliminate double shift schooling by constructing 100 new schools and a teacher training college. Overall, the estimated cost of the medium term education interventions is $200 million.

In the construction sector, we will re-build 2,800 homes destroyed during the recent conflict in addition to 1,400 others from previous conflicts and a further 4,000 sub-standard shelters that are beyond repair. The overall shelter sector costs are estimated at $246 million.

In the health sector, the total estimated for UNRWA’s longer term activities, including the construction of new clinics or enhancement of existing clinics is US$10 million.

The role of donors is pivotal to our ability to deliver on these plans. We have already received impressive contributions from traditional donors as well as Arab partners, for which we are grateful. The Consolidated Flash Appeal is 32.5% funded overall, while 50% of UNRWA’s component is covered.

Your Excellencies:

I conclude by reiterating the calls made by others for Gaza’s borders to be open and kept open for two-way flows of people, goods and currency. We must also work to establish a stable security situation in which humanitarian and human development actors can operate in safety. And we must ensure respect by all parties for human rights law and international humanitarian law.

The centre of our attention must remain the many Palestinians who want nothing more than to lead normal lives in dignity, peace and security with their neighbours and the world, and who yearn for the same opportunities for stability and human fulfillment that are available to others. We must create conditions in which the rights and freedoms enshrined in the United Nations Charter are given real meaning for Gaza’s civilians.

These conditions are imperative for the implementation of UNRWA’s and other UN agencies’ recovery and reconstruction plans. If they are put in place, and if donors respond as expected, then our combined strengths will ensure success in restoring hope to the people of Gaza.

Background Information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 56 million.

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