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UN agency for Palestinian refugees raises just US$107 million of US$300 million needed

Philippe Lazzarini, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) speaks during a news conference at their compound following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Gaza City. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) Philippe Lazzarini, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) speaks during a news conference at their compound following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Gaza City. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
UNITED NATIONS -

Despite a dire warning from the United Nations chief that the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees "is on the verge of financial collapse," donors at a pledging conference on Friday provided just US$107 million in new funds -- significantly less than the US$300 million it needs to keep helping millions of people.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the agency known as UNRWA, said he was grateful for the new pledges but they are below the funds needed to keep over 700 schools and 140 clinics open from September through December.

"We will continue to work tirelessly with our partners, including host countries -- the refugees' top supporters -- to raise the funds needed," he said in a statement.

At the beginning of the year, UNRWA appealed for US$1.6 billion for its programs, operations and emergency response across Syria, Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Jordan. That includes nearly US$850 million for its core budget, which includes running schools and health clinics.

According to UNRWA, donors on Friday announced US$812.3 million in pledges, but just US$107.2 million were new contributions. The countries pledging new funds were not announced.

Lazzarini told a press conference Thursday that UNRWA needs US$150 million to keep all services running until the end of the year, and an additional US$50 million to start 2024 without liabilities. In addition, he said, the agency needs US$75 million to keep the food pipeline in Gaza operating and about US$30 million for its cash distribution program in Syria and Lebanon.

UNRWA was founded in the wake of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 to provide hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes with education, health care, social services and in some cases jobs. Today, their numbers -- with descendants -- have grown to some 5.9 million people, most in the Gaza Strip and West Bank as well as neighboring countries in the Middle East.

UNRWA has faced a financial crisis for 10 years, but Lazzarini said the current crisis is "massive," calling it "our main existential threat."

"It is deepening, and our ability to muddle through is slowly but surely coming to an end," he said. "The situation is even more critical now that some of our committed donors have indicated that they will substantially decrease their contribution to the agency."

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a speech read by his chief of staff at the start of the pledging conference that "when UNRWA's future hangs in the balance so do the lives of millions of Palestine refugees relying on essential services."

Those services include education for over half a million girls and boys, health care for around 2 million people, job opportunities for young people in Gaza and elsewhere, psycho-social support for hundreds of thousands of children, and a social safety net for nearly half a million of the poorest Palestinians, he said. More than 1.2 million Palestinians also receive humanitarian assistance.

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