Foreign Minister “Concerned” over UNRWA’s Gaza Assistance Suspension

RAMALLAH, January 28, 2015 (WAFA) – Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riyad al-Malki Wednesday said he was concerned over UNRWA’s suspension of cash assistance to tens of thousands of people for repairs to damaged and destroyed homes and for rental subsidies to the homeless.

Al-Malki called upon the international community to meet its obligations and transfer the funds pledged during the Egypt-based Gaza Reconstruction Conference held last October.

Yesterday, UNRWA declared 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 is 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 has so far received only $135 million in pledges, leaving a shortfall of $585 million.

The donor countries pledged $5.4 billion during the Gaza Reconstruction Conference, held in Cairo on October 12. Nonetheless, none of those countries transfer any of the funds pledged so far.

“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.”

UNRWA said $100 million is urgently needed in the first quarter of 2015 to allow families with minor damage to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies, including to the thousands of families who left UNRWA-run collective centers and found alternative rental accommodation.

The international organization said it is concerned that if it cannot continue to provide rental subsidies, large numbers may return to the collective centers, where almost 12,000 displaced Palestinians continue to seek shelter.

UNRWA mentioned in a press release mid December 2014 that the final count of partially or fully damaged homes in the Gaza Strip is estimated at 96,000 homes. UNRWA described such figures as shocking and surprising.

Turner confirmed that the delay in transferring the necessary funds to UNRWA will render it incapable of helping thousands of families in paying the rent after losing their homes during the war.

Israel waged its war on the Gaza Strip on August 7 of 2014, which lasted for 51 days. During the time, over 2,200 Palestinians were killed, mostly unarmed civilians, while another 11,000 were injured, according to the Ministry of Health.