C4: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

11/6/2012 // Norway's statement on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), held by Permanent Representative Geir O. Pedersen on 6 November 2012.

Sixty-four years into the exile of the Palestine refugees, UNRWA’s mandate is unchanged and remains clear: We continue to ask UNRWA to assist the refugees until a just solution is found. We continue to do so – both as member states and donors – in a period which creates profoundly much stress for the organization, both politically and financially. Like the other final status issues, the refugee issue continues to be protracted as the peace process is stagnating. However the refugee issue is not a constant as the number and needs increase day by day. Furthermore, the political upheaval in the Arab region is creating challenges for UNRWA’s modus operandi, and the global economic crisis is affecting both donors and host countries. In particular, UNRWA’s pay policy which is matching public sector wages of the host countries becomes vulnerable when those Governments increase the salaries. In sum, UNRWA is under tremendous pressure.

In these difficult circumstances Norway expresses its great appreciation for the invaluable assistance performed by UNRWA to improve the lives of Palestine refugees across the region, including Syria. Every UNRWA staff should be saluted and every lost UNRWA staff is a tragedy. We deeply regret the losses of the Agency’s staff in the Syrian conflict.

We welcome the ongoing efforts to reform the organization, including programs as well as reduction of administrative costs through internal measures. UNRWA has over the last years utilized the resources more effectively. The financial management and transparency of the organization have also improved substantively. Ultimately this process needs to continue in close consultation with the donors.

Let me emphasize that the extent and nature of the financial situation facing UNRWA is very serious, and also structural. The shortfall of UNRWAs Regular Budget has become a recurrent problem. However, this year is even worse than last year, as prospects to bridge the financial gap remains distant, only two months before the end of the year. With an expected deficit of the core budget at year end of USD 37.4 million, UNRWA may not be able to pay its 31.000 staff in December. This looming crisis is expected to persist as the refugee population continues to grow and as the funding from the traditional donors does not match the increased budgets.

Over the last years in the fourth committee debates we have been reiterating the same ideas and proposals for what we believe would become a more efficient and sustainable UNRWA.

Even if those strategic ideas remain largely unimplemented, we continue to believe that UNRWA’s long-term financial challenges requires a structural change in terms of how UNRWA is funded; how it operates; and how it cooperates with other stakeholders and partners.

The solution to the financial challenge does not only lie within the Advisory Commission and the traditional donors. We therefore welcome new contributions from Arab countries to UNRWAs General Fund, in particular from Kuwait and Iraq, and also from other new donors like Russia. This year’s increase of contributions to UNRWA’s regular budget by Brazil and Turkey are also welcomed, as well as efforts undertaken by traditional donors. But more needs to be done to share the financial burden amongst the donors, and new funding tools should be utilized. We encourage UNRWA to intensify its efforts in mobilizing regional, private, and emerging donors with their new resource mobilization strategy. Furthermore it is our common responsibility as members of the UN General Assembly to ensure a continuation of proper funding over the UN regular budgets for the next biennium, in particular because UNRWA is mandated by the UN General Assembly.

Increased transparency and accountability are important for stakeholder’s ability to have a say in UNRWAs priorities and to ensure donor’s readiness to uphold substantial contributions. As a major donor we are aware of the limit to how much UNRWA can reduce its expenditures without creating too much hardship for its staff, but progress has been made. In the medium and long term we look forward to discuss with UNRWA and other donors how to adjust the expenditures and the workforce in tandem with the program priorities.

The structural challenges underscore the need to stay focused on continuing reforms through the “Sustaining Change”. We welcome in particular the reform of the Relief and Social Services. We encourage UNRWA to strengthen its capacity to target the most vulnerable amongst the refugees to ensure that financial shortfall will not harm the ones that need UNRWAs services the most. This means that UNRWA has to strengthen its ability to allocate resources to fields and program sectors according to needs. UNRWA's next Medium Term Strategy (2016-20) will play an important role in addressing sustainability and prioritization, and setting the framework for future financial planning.

Finally, a reassessment of UNRWAs cooperation with all other stakeholders and partners is needed. An important first step would be to look for synergies in closer coordination with other UN agencies and humanitarian and development actors, including improved cooperation and coordination with the Palestinian Authority and host countries. Parallel systems for service provision should be avoided as they increase the overall costs. As donors we have a particular responsibility to ensure that our collective effort and our contributions are spent in the most cost-efficient way possible, towards our common goal.

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.

Let me underline the important role UNRWA is playing in service delivery for the Palestinian population in Gaza and at the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Without the service delivery of UNRWA, education, health services and social support system would significantly lag behind. UNRWA has over the last years been a significant important contributor in making Palestine ready for statehood.

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