The United Nations agency that delivers basic services to millions of Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) appealed on Tuesday for $1.6 billion in funding after its head warned it was struggling to fulfil its mandate due to spiraling costs and shrinking resources.
Established in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war, UNRWA provides public services including schools, primary healthcare and humanitarian aid in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
"Compounding challenges over the last year including underfunding, competing global crises, inflation, disruption in the supply chain, geopolitical dynamics and skyrocketing levels of poverty and unemployment among Palestine refugees have put immense strain on UNRWA," the agency said in a statement.
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UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini told Reuters in November that the agency's financial woes could result in it no longer being able to fulfil its mandate, which last month was renewed by the UN for another three years.
On Tuesday, Lazzarini said that certain Arab countries' rapprochement with Israel should pose no obstacle to their funding of the organization.
UNRWA in recent years has come under pressure in part from a decline in funding from Arab countries, which last year accounted for a mere 4% of overall contributions to the agency after having made up around a quarter in 2018.
The decision by some countries like the United Arab Emirates to cut or even halt funding altogether coincides with a move toward normalizing relations with Israel as part of a series of agreements known as the Abraham Accords.
"You can have strong bilateral relations with Israel and be a strong supporter of the agency," Lazzarini told Reuters.
"Whatever rapprochement or ties (with Israel) should not have the slightest impact on your commitment and your solidarity with the Palestine refugees and your support to an agency like UNRWA. We should not be the proxy or byproduct of any political considerations," he said
Last September, the U.S. announced $64 million in aid for UNRWA, days before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was set to address the UN General Assembly amid rumblings of Palestinian plans to seek full UN membership at the UN Security Council.
Ben Samuel contributed to his story.