Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), addresses a press conference at the UN headquarters in New York on June 1, 2023. The agency was going through a massive financial crisis, Philippe Lazzarini told the press conference on Thursday. (Evan Schneider/UN Photo/Handout via Xinhua)
UNITED NATIONS, June 1 (Xinhua) -- Chief of the UN relief agency for Palestine refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, on Thursday warned of the approaching of a tipping point in the delivery of services.
"The agency is going through a massive massive financial crisis, to the extent that I have recently described the financial crisis as being our main existential threat when it comes to our ability to implement the mandate," he told reporters ahead of Friday's pledging conference for the agency, officially known as the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
The crisis is real. It is deepening. And UNRWA is losing room for maneuver, he warned.
The situation is even more critical now that some of the committed donors have indicated that they will substantially decrease their contributions to the agency, he said.
Donations from Arab countries, which accounted for a record high of 25 percent of the total contributions in 2018, fells to 3 percent in 2021, he noted. Other countries, particularly European countries, are also reconsidering their overall international assistance, which will affect UNRWA, he said.
UNRWA is not like any other UN humanitarian or development agency. The uniqueness of this organization is that it is the only one that is tasked to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region -- the Palestinian refugees, he said.
"I am in no position to say well because we have 20 percent less resources, let's ask 20 percent of our children to get out of school ... and when the funding is back we'll bring back these children. That's not the way public-like services operate," he said.
Some 150 million U.S. dollars is needed to keep the public-like services running without disruption by the end of the year. In addition, 75 million dollars is needed to avoid the disruption of the food pipeline in Gaza. Another 30 million dollars is required for cash distribution in Syria and Lebanon, said Lazzarini.
Based on the best information available from its donor base, UNRWA will have no funds and cash available by September 2023 to keep its schools, health centers and other critical services running. The agency also needs additional funding to keep its humanitarian operations running, he said.
"I also keep telling partners and donors that they should not take our ability to continue to deliver services for granted. Sooner or later, we will be reaching a tipping point," he said.
UNRWA is approaching the 75th anniversary of its founding as a temporary agency. There is nothing to rejoice because that means that collectively the international community has failed to find a political solution to the Palestine refugee issue, he said. "But I also believe that the 75th (anniversary) should be the occasion to start to reflect on what is and should be our collective responsibility and commitment to the Palestine refugees in the future. Our model today -- the way we are doing business, the unreliability of our donor base, the fact that we provide public services but be funded like an NGO (nongovernmental organization) is not sustainable anymore."
UNRWA currently serves some 5.9 million Palestine refugees and their descendants in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria as well as West Bank and Gaza. ■