Response to Jerusalem Post article on Gaza education

20 June 2011

20 June 2011

Sir,

Your incorrectly headlined article “UNRWA report on Gaza education false, biased” contains baseless and misleading allegations.

It is about a report by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Education, an independent human rights expert, not, as your headline says, an UNRWA report.

Citing COGAT it claims Israel heard about UNRWA’s plan to build 100 schools in Gaza from the media; not true. Since we presented our reconstruction plan to the “Sharm el Sheikh Conference” in 2009, we have discussed the building of the new schools with COGAT on several occasions. Notably, we briefed COGAT about the 100 schools at a meeting in June 2010 attended by General Dangot and held under the auspices of the UN Special Co-ordinator. Following that UNRWA submitted to COGAT an approval request for an initial 74 schools.

The article accuses UNRWA of delaying reconstruction; another falsehood. 24 schools have been approved. Work on nine has been contracted and is underway as it is for approved and funded projects. For the remaining 15 schools, funding negotiations started as soon as they were approved. Prior to that, donors were very reluctant to fund schools without any guarantee of when they would be built due to the lack of approvals.

However, our negotiations with donors are complicated by the fact that there are other projects, especially crucial housing projects, which have been fully funded for years and which have been awaiting approval by the Israeli government. Early approval of these projects would ease the flow of fresh funds and allow people who have been deprived of proper homes for years to rebuild their houses.

Yours faithfully,
Chris Gunness,
UNRWA Spokesman

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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