Michael Freund, THE JERUSALEM POST Feb. 9, 2007
Despite their rhetorical pledges of support for the Palestinians, the Arab
states are providing an increasingly smaller amount of aid to the United
Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), prompting
the UN agency to step up efforts to solicit more funds from Arab regimes
throughout the region.
At a press conference held Wednesday in Manama, the Bahraini capital, UNRWA
representative Peter Ford issued a plea to Arab countries to increase their
donations on behalf of Palestinian refugees, asserting that UNRWA is facing
"a financial crisis."
Over the past two decades, Ford noted, Arab states have provided a steadily
decreasing percentage of UNRWA's funding. In the 1980s, he said, their
donations amounted to 8% of the group's annual budget, whereas now, "Arab
donors currently contribute less than three percent of UNRWA's overall
"The objective," he said, "is to return to that level of support at a time
when the innocent refugees, as always the victims of political problems, are
suffering more than ever."
Ford added that while funds from major donor countries have been "regular
and steady," the agency is now looking to tap into other sources, in
particular the Arab states, in light of growing demand for UNRWA's services
among Palestinian refugees.
"The situation for the refugees is ominously deteriorating because of
Israeli attitudes and Palestinian in-fighting," he said. "There is an
increasing need for funds from several sources, mainly Arab states."
According to UNRWA's Web site, the largest pledge received from an Arab
country in 2006 was $1.5 million from Kuwait, with Saudi Arabia promising
just $1.2 million. By contrast, Sweden pledged more than $41 million, the UK
$27 million, and Denmark over $12 million.
Other Arab states were even less generous, with oil-rich Bahrain offering
$30,000 and Lebanon a mere $10,000.
The US was the largest supporter of UNRWA's activities, with more than $137
million of the group's budgeted expenditures of $462 million coming from
As of October 31, the latest date for which figures are available, UNRWA was
expecting a funding shortfall in 2006 of $117 million, with total pledges
amounting to $345 million.
Nearly all of UNRWA's operations are financed by voluntary contributions
from governments and the European Union. In total, Western countries provide
more than 95% of the agency's finances.
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