Financial Deficit Forces UNRWA to Reduce International Personnel

JERUSALEM, June 30, 2015 (WAFA) – The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced on Monday that, due to a severe financial crisis it has been facing recently, 35% of its 137 international personnel will see their contracts end in the coming four weeks.

UNRWA Spokesperson, Chris Gunness, said 85% of all 137 international personnel on short term contracts will be separated in a phased process which will last until the end of September. He said 35% of those 137 internationals will be laid off in the coming four weeks.

Another 50% will end by September 30 without further extension or renewal, he added. “UNRWA is taking this measure to reduce costs as much as possible without reducing services to refugees,” Gunnes said in a press statement.

“UNRWA has a deficit to the end of the year of $101 million and we will continue with our robust efforts in resource mobilization. As things currently stand, with stringent austerity measures already in place beyond today’s announcement, the Agency should be able to continue with life-saving services to the end of the year,” he said.

Gunnes added that despite of this financial crisis, the Agency will be able to continue to provide basic services to Palestinian refugees including health programs, relief and social services, sanitation and emergency projects.

“UNRWA’s school system for half a million children across the Middle East in Jordan, Lebanon, the occupied Palestinian territory and Syria are essential but some difficult decisions may be needed in coming weeks if the deficit is not filled,” he stressed.

On January 27, UNRWA announced it was forced to suspend its cash assistance program in Gaza to tens of thousands of people for repairs to damaged and destroyed homes and for rental subsidies to the homeless.

It said that while $720 million was required for rental subsidies and repairs to over 96,000 Palestinian refugee families, whose homes were damaged or destroyed during last summer’s conflict, UNRWA only received $135 million in pledges, leaving a shortfall of $585 million.

“UNRWA in Gaza has so far provided over $77 million to 66,000 Palestine refugee families to repair their homes or find a temporary alternative,” said UNRWA Director in Gaza Robert Turner. “This is a tremendous achievement; it is also wholly insufficient.”

“People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble; children have died of hypothermia. $5.4 billion was pledged at the Cairo conference last October and virtually none of it has reached Gaza. This is distressing and unacceptable.”

“It is unclear why this funding has not been forthcoming,” added Turner. “But UNRWA has been a stabilizing factor in a very challenging political and security context and if we cannot continue the program, it will have grave consequences for affected communities in Gaza.”

He continued, “People are desperate and the international community cannot even provide the bare minimum – for example a repaired home in winter – let alone a lifting of the blockade, access to markets or freedom of movement. We’ve said before that quiet will not last, and now the quiet is at risk.”