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(UN agency asks for $311 million to aid refugees in 2001)
By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

December 5, 2000

United Nations -- As a result of the violence in the Occupied Territories, the Palestinian economy has suffered income losses of more than $500 million and about 40 percent of the Palestinian workforce is unemployed, a senior U.N. official reported December 5.

The U.N. Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories Terje Rod-Larsen said that each day the crisis costs the Palestinian economy $10 million in losses and the World Bank expects the poverty rate to reach 32 percent of the population by the end of December.

This is in stark contrast to a poverty rate of less than 20 percent in September, he said.

Speaking to a meeting in Gaza of donors and senior officials of the Palestinian Authority, Rod-Larsen said, "Palestinian living conditions are falling fast, and safety nets are wearing thin."  He pointed out that over 260,000 Palestinians are unemployed in the West Bank and Gaza, but because each worker supports several other people, an estimated 1 million Palestinians -- about one-third the entire population -- have suffered serious loss of income.

Saying that "three years of progress have been wiped out in two months of conflict," the coordinator noted that between 1996 and 1999 the unemployment rate had dropped from 30 percent to 12 percent.

Rod-Larsen said he told the Israeli government that border closures and other restrictions are counter-productive.  Unemployment and poverty lead directly to anger and aggression.  Israel faced a contradiction: closures are imposed for security reasons but in reality they were creating a less secure environment, he said.

"There can be no end to the current violence until there is real political progress on the ground," he said.  "And there will be no lasting peace until there is real improvement in the economic conditions of Palestinians."

At U.N. headquarters in New York December 4 donor countries pledged $38.5 million for the regular budget of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  They also pledged an additional $22 million for an emergency appeal issued in November. 

The pledges, however, fell far short of the $311 million the agency said it needs to provide services to more than 3.8 million Palestine refugees in 2001.

The United States, one of the major contributors to UNRWA, said that it was not able to specify a pledge at the meeting because of continuing budget negotiations in Washington.

Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, a senior U.S. advisor to the U.S. delegation at the 55th General Assembly, said that the United States strongly supports UNRWA and its work on behalf of the Palestinian refugee community.

"The United States commends UNRWA for its extraordinary efforts these past few weeks to assist the refugees during the recent rounds of violence," Abercrombie-Winstanley said.

"In October the United States responded to UNRWA's first emergency appeal for funds to purchase medical supplies.  We encourage the donor community to look favorably upon UNRWA's most recent appeal for funds to provide medicines, blankets, and emergency cash and food baskets," she said.  "The U.S. calls on the international community to demonstrate its support for the welfare of the Palestinian refugee community through strong financial commitments to UNRWA's core programs."

"UNRWA's efforts on behalf of the refugees play a vital role not only towards the welfare of the Palestinian community, but also in support of the international community's efforts to promote an end to the violence between the parties and towards finding a just and lasting peace," Abercrombie-Winstanley said.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.  Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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