UNRWA plays a key role for Palestine refugees throughout the Middle East and is the key contributor to health and education for thousands of Palestine refugees living in hardship.
The 51-day war in Gaza over the summer cost the lives of more than 2 200 people and caused enormous destruction and suffering. The traumatic consequences of the intense bombardment are long term.
Further, the ongoing crisis in Syria has reached catastrophic dimensions with an impact on the whole region. We are facing new displacements of Palestine refugees both within and outside of Syria. This is a continuing burden on UNRWA, on Lebanon and Jordan.
The Norwegian Government is gravely concerned about the loss of life of Palestine refugees in Syria and Gaza, and of the hardships endured by the majority of the Palestinian refugees. The Norwegian government commends efforts in facilitating access of UN staff and commends the Agency’s work in Syria and Gaza. Norway urges that access must be allowed for all UNRWA’s humanitarian and human development activities.
UNRWA’s role was vital in preparing for the Cairo Conference for the reconstruction of Gaza. At the Conference donors pledged 5.4 billion USD in financial support for Palestine. A major part will go to reconstruction in Gaza. UNRWA is the key UN agency on the ground that for months scaled up activities to meet the need for food, water, shelter and sanitation services to still ten thousands of displaced persons. Materials must be brought in and the wheels of economic life must begin turning again in both Gaza and the West Bank, so people can work. For this to happen, Israel must lift the blockade. Gaza and the West Bank must be merged into a single economy whose participants can trade freely within Palestine and with the outside world. Also required is a responsible authority across all of Palestine that favours a lasting ceasefire and can create sound policy frameworks and security for all civilians.
UNRWA is under pressure, both politically and financially. The total refugee population is increasing, and UNRWA currently faces a shortfall of about USD 56 million by the end of 2014. UNRWA’s financial challenges require changes in funding, operations, as well as partnerships with both host countries and other UN organizations.
Norway highly appreciates the contributions made by the host countries in supporting UNRWA operations in the fields and contributing in delivering basic services to the refugees in camps and outside the camps.
In order for UNRWA to continue to adequately serving Palestine refugees, the international community must continue to provide sufficient funding. We welcome the contribution from new donors, as well as efforts made by the traditional donors. However, the financial burden should be shared – also among the Ad Com members. The increasing funding gap cannot be covered by a small group of top contributors to UNRWA.
Continued service delivery to the refugee population requires that UNRWA continues to adapt to changing realities in the region. Priority must be given to the most vulnerable refugee groups. Norway appreciates the ongoing processes to improve UNRWA's performance and we encourage the organization to carry on this process based on the next Medium Term Strategy. We welcome financial planning aligned with available resources, and the Agency’s commitments to improve its financial procedures, including increased budget transparency.
Norway greatly honors all efforts by host governments in assisting the growing refugee population. Partnerships with host country governments in providing services to the refugee camps, such as electricity and water, are important and valuable contributions. Another important step is to look for more cooperation with other UN Agencies. As donors we have a responsibility to ensure that our collective contributions are spent in the most cost efficient way. Transparency and accountability are important for stakeholder’s ability to have a say in UNRWAs priorities and to clarify how resources are spent.
To conclude, we wish to express our full support to the Agency and its staff for the invaluable work performed.
Thank you, Chair.