Dr. Mneymneh: The need of a mechanism reconsidering the funding of the agency
In the speech he delivered to UNRWA’s advisory commission meeting held in Amman, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl signaled that the agency’s program budget is expected to witness a shortfall in the coming month of September, amounting to USD 81 million, which will therefore generate a financial crisis once again. In fact, he pointed out that this shortfall did not even include UNRWA’s reform programs and basic projects that have also shrunk due to the lack of funding.
Fact is; the agency suffered a budget deficit in 2015 that amounted to USD 101 million. A period of not less than three months was then required to cover this deficit, after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, UNRWA Commissioner-General, Lebanese Prime Minister Salam, Palestinian President Abbas and Jordanian Minister for foreign Affairs Nasser Judeh had exerted unremitting efforts and intensified calls in this regard. This exacerbating situation was threatening to delay the academic year of some 500,000 Palestinian students and was imposing great strains on the healthcare budget and on other services provided by UNRWA. This gave rise to massive waves of outrage in Palestinian camps, with dozens of protests and demonstrations taking place in various areas of Palestinian presence.
Members of donor and host countries alongside UNRWA senior officials attended the commission meeting held in the Jordanian capital Amman. A Lebanese delegation, headed by Chairman of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC) Dr. Hassan Mneymneh, also attended the meeting.
During the conference, Dr. Mneymneh clarified Lebanon’s stance, confirming that the Lebanese government will not support the implementation of any type of measures rejected by the Palestinian community, as he highlighted the importance of a continuous dialogue between the agency and the refugee community with regard to the agency’s reform programs. Moreover, Dr. Mneymneh reiterated that the Lebanese diplomacy is exerting efforts with the host countries and the Arab states, alongside the UN and the international community, in order to reach sustainable mechanisms that would enable a reconsideration of UNRWA’s funding system, in a way that ensures its continuity in terms of providing assistance and services, according to the core needs, and not according to the funds allocated by donor countries.
The main cause of this shortfall is the rising demands on services amidst an excruciating ordeal prevailing over the region of UNRWA’s work in all hosting countries.
While UNRWA provides emergency assistance to almost 1.5 million refugees, the agency sustains core services to well over twice that number, in consideration of the increased demands in Syria, occupied Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan. Those countries are suffering intense pressure due to armed conflicts and are severely affected by settlement occupation. Even though UNRWA’s program budget for the year has come down to USD 74 million (i.e. a 27% reduction), it puts the agency back under the same challenge it had faced during the previous year. Thus, the Commissioner-General acknowledged his uncertainty of whether the agency will have sufficient resources to open its schools after the summer recess. At the healthcare level, he signaled that Lebanon is consuming 50% of the total amount of UNRWA’s budget with regard to hospitalization.
Additionally, Dr. Mneymneh warned about the risks that will be induced in case of an additional reduction in terms of the budget of services, particularly in the healthcare and education services, in view of the special circumstances that Palestinian refugees are enduring in Lebanon, whether they had taken refuge in Lebanon before the Syrian crisis or were displaced from Syria. Furthermore, Dr. Mneymneh linked the latter situation to a series of circumstances that Lebanon is experiencing with regard to its economic sectors and the increasing unemployment rate among Lebanese, Palestinian refugees, and displaced Syrians. In light of this regional humanitarian crisis, Dr. Mneymneh called on donor countries, Arab and foreign, to commit to their humane obligation of carrying through their responsibility towards the Palestinian refugees who are bearing the burden of the Zionist occupation on the one side, and the international community’s ignorance of their right to return to their homeland on the other side.