Over these last few years the debate here in the General Assembly and in the Advisory Commission has centered on UNRWA’s financial situation and the recurring budget deficits – this year projected at 20 percent of the General Fund. Extraordinary contributions from generous donors have narrowed the gap, enabling UNRWA more or less to maintain operations according to plan throughout the budget year. But projections are dim and expected deficits for 2011 exceed this year.
We therefore return to the fundamental structural challenge facing UNRWA – the simple fact that the refugee population grows annually by 2.4 percent and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. When we are discussing strategies we need to recognize that a solution to UNRWA’s long-term financial challenges requires a structural change in three ways, in terms of how UNRWA is funded; how it operates; and how it cooperates with other stakeholders and partners.
To the first point; an immediate step would be to find a more balanced burden-sharing within the Advisory Commission (AdCom). Today 90 percent of the General Fund is covered by the contributions from the top 10 AdCom-members. The remaining 13 members of the AdCom contribute only 10 percent of that of the top ten. Let it be noted; there are AdCom-members who are out-pledged by donors who are not members of the Commission. Membership of the Advisory Commission comes with a commitment to support UNRWA financially. Norway therefore encourages AdCom-members to take a closer look at the statistics and increase their contributions.
The long-term solution to the financial situation, however, lies not within AdCom. The donor base must be enhanced. Norway is ready to engage in joint efforts to attract new donors, but would also like to note that earlier efforts along the same lines have yielded limited results. We therefore need to reassess those efforts and look closely into how we can engage new donors.
To the second point; a change as to how UNRWA operates is needed. While much has been achieved through the “Organizational Development”- process, we need to stay focused on the continuing development of the organization in the second critical phase of reform: “Sustaining Change”. While improving the quality of UNRWA’s programs, especially in education, health and relief to the poor, we need to make sure that everything is done to cut costs and streamline the organization. We want to stress that this is an integral part of strengthening the work of UNRWA to serve Palestine refugees better when it comes to improved quality for service delivery, and not to build it down. We need a strong UNRWA in the years to come whatever the outcome of political talks.
To the third point: UNRWA’s relations with stakeholders and partners. A reassessment of UNRWAs cooperation with all other actors is needed. An important first step would be to look for synergies in closer coordination with other UN agencies and humanitarian and development actors. But beyond that, an assessment of possible options for improved cooperation and coordination with the Palestinian Authority and host countries is needed.
Let me end by making the following observation. I think I speak for all when I say that the overall purpose of our engagement in the Middle East is laying the foundation for enduring peace, ending the conflict, and building a Palestinian state. The international effort that goes towards this goal is staggering. The total amount of aid to the Palestinian Territory is approximately 5 bn dollars each year. Some 80 countries have bilateral development programs. A plethora of NGOs are registered with activities on the ground. The United Nations have 21 agencies and specialized programmes established in the occupied Palestinian territories. All of these actors are working towards the same goal, and end to conflict and an independent and sustainable Palestinian state.
As donors we have a particular responsibility to ensure that our collective effort and our contributions are spent in the most efficient way possible towards our common goal. It simply makes no sense if some organizations are over-funded, while others, equally important to achieving that goal, remain chronically underfunded.
It is Norway’s view that essential service provision and human development, like health and education, are the very building blocks of any state building process. The growth and prosperity of a nation rests on its population’s ability to pursue their hopes and aspirations. The foundation for a better future is laid in classrooms and health clinics. Furthermore, while the final status issues are the responsibility of the parties to resolve, UNRWAs efforts to protect the rights of Palestine refugees under international law are essential in the search for a negotiated political solution. In that perspective UNRWA’s contribution towards our common goal for the Palestinian people, in particular Palestine refugees, is a cornerstone in the total activity directed towards the Palestinian people in the coming years.
This is why Norway would like to stress the need for a more integrated approach. As donors, with a common goal and a shared vision, we need to see our joint efforts in an integrated way. Ensure that our priorities are well calibrated and that we direct our resources towards this common goal. We believe there are many measures UNRWA can take to help close the budget gaps. And we will support the organization in doing so. But we also believe there are donor funds available out there to alleviate UNRWA’s financial woes. It is just a matter of finding the right priorities.