As we look towards 2013 we need to remind ourselves that the Palestine refugee question will only be resolved when a just and durable political solution is agreed upon by Palestine and Israel. The recent conflict in Gaza is a sad reminder of that. UNRWA’s commitment to protect and support the Palestine refugees is essential until there is a just political resolution. In this perspective UNRWA has been a significant contributor in making Palestine ready for statehood. But like the other final status issues, the question of Palestine refugees continues to be protracted as the peace process is stagnating.
We will therefore continue to request UNRWA to assist the refugees until a just solution is found, even in a period which creates profoundly much stress for the organization, both politically and financially. UNRWAs five fields of operations are increasingly affected by increased conflict. The deterioration in Syria and the latest conflict in Gaza is a reminder of how extremely vulnerable and exposed to danger Palestine refugees are. We must avoid a potential crisis where Palestine refugees become drawn into the Syrian conflict.
Norway expresses its great appreciation of the invaluable assistance performed by UNRWA to improve the lives of Palestine refugees across the region, including Syria and Gaza. We deeply regret the recent death of six UNRWA staff members, five in Syria and one in Gaza.
Although considerable progress has been made by the Agency over the last years, the structural challenges facing UNRWA remain the same: The shortfall of UNRWAs Regular Budget has become a recurrent problem. This year is even worse than last year. This looming crisis is expected to persist as the refugee population continues to grow and as funding from the traditional donors does not match the increased budgets. In order to enable UNRWA to deliver high quality services according to the rights of refugees in years to come, three issues need to be addressed.
First: The long-term solution to the financial challenges must be resolved on a broader basis than the Advisory Commission and its traditional donors. Today close to 90 percent of the General Fund is covered by the top 10 members of the Commission. The increasing funding gap cannot be mitigated by a small group of UNRWA’s top contributors only.
We therefore welcome new contributions from Arab countries to UNRWAs General Fund and also from other new donors. But more needs to be done to share the financial burden and new funding tools should be utilized. As underscored by many donor states at the Advisory Commission meeting last week, we encourage UNRWA to intensify its efforts in mobilizing regional, private, and emerging donors with their new resource mobilization strategy. Moreover 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.
Second: The structural challenges facing UNRWA underscores the need to push through and implement the reforms already initiated by the Agency. We welcome UNRWAs commitments to improve its financial procedures including increased transparency of the budget process and in its prioritization of work.
As a major donor we are aware of the limit to how far UNRWA can reduce its expenditures without creating too much hardship for its staff, but progress has been made this year. In the medium and long term we look forward to an in-depth discussion with the Agency, the host countries and other donors on how to adjust the expenditures and the workforce in tandem with program priorities. Creative but durable solutions must be sought even if these questions are highly sensitive. 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.
Third: We commend increased cooperation between UNRWA and the host countries with regard to service delivery. Parallel systems for service provision should be avoided as they increase the overall costs. An important further step would be to look for synergies in closer cooperation between UNRWA and other UN agencies, as well as with the Palestinian Authority.
Through our regular contribution to the Agency’s General Fund and other contributions to specific programs, Norway reached a level of approximately 30 million dollars in support of UNRWA this year. This high level of contribution reflects Norway’s trust in UNRWA. Norway expects to be able to maintain a similar high level of financial support of UNRWA in 2013.