Sixty years after it was established, UNRWA and its services are unfortunately more relevant than ever. Needless to say, the final-status issue of right to return remains unresolved, leaving millions in encampments with no end to their situation in sight. But also to bear in mind, the refugee population is growing by 2.4 % annually, and will continue to do so for as long as the issue remains unresolved. Over the past 60 years, the number of registered refugees has more than quadrupled – to approximately 4.6 million today.
Even if a meaningful peace process is established and a refugee issue is resolved, there will probably be a transitional period when UNRWA’s services and support are needed as strongly as ever. This period might last for as long as 10 to 15 years.
My point is this – regardless of developments in the region, UNRWA will be with us for years to come.
Over the last few years we have been concerned about the trend in UNRWA’s financial stability. The growing refugee population and further deterioration of the economic situation in UNRWA’s mandate area has caused a steady increase in demand for UNRWA’s services. However, there has been little change in the volume of funding available. Consequently, UNRWA has over the last few years depleted its working capital, and earlier this year posted a budget gap of USD 87 million for 2009.
During its chairmanship of UNRWA’s Advisory Commission from July 2008 to July 2009, Norway took several initiatives to secure funding from a broader base of donors. This has been essential in addressing the rights of Palestinian refugees to basic social services, and I would like to pay tribute to all those donors who responded and provided extraordinary funds.
But projections for the coming years are unpromising, to say the least. According to UNRWA’s own estimates, the funding gap will increase to USD 116 million (approximately 20 %) in 2011 if donors’ regular contributions are kept at 2008 levels. In other words, unless we find a permanent solution to the funding of UNRWA, we will be faced with the same urgent problem and ad hoc response every year from now on.
A first and important step would be to enhance the resource base. Currently, only 15 member states contribute more than 90% of the funding for UNRWA’s General Fund. These member states have all indicated that they have reached the limit for how much they are prepared to provide. This means that additional regular contributions need to come from new donors. We call on the G-20 members to become involved. We also call on Arab states to honour Arab League resolution 4625 from April 1987, where Arab states committed to contributing no less than 7.7% of UNRWA’s General Fund.
A next step would be to ensure that a greater share of UNRWA’s funding comes from the UN’s regular budgets. First and foremost, this would make UNRWA’s own financial status more predictable. But it would also result in a more equitable burden-sharing. At the commemoration of the 60th anniversary on 22 September this year, the representatives of the regional groups all expressed their concerns regarding UNRWA’s financial situation. Now is the time to come through and support increasing the funding through the General Assembly.
There is no need to go into detail on the importance of UNRWA in this forum. But I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise that although we tend to look on UNRWA merely as a provider of social services such as health and education, it is in fact far more than that. UNRWA has come to represent hope to those deprived of the rights taken for granted by those of us living in peaceful parts of the world. UNRWA is today the face of humanity, the bearer of human rights and democracy, and the guarantor of protection of women and children in a region torn by conflict and violence. UNRWA is a key element in building peace in the Middle East. And just as the situation in the Middle East concerns all of us, so does UNRWA.