Tag Archives: UN

UNRWA determined not to scale back amid crippling funding crisis

6 Dec
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Saturday, December 05, 2009
BEIRUT: The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees is struggling with a “dire” financial crisis but will not cut back on its provision of services, its head of operations in Lebanon said Friday. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said on Wednesday it was facing its worst budget deficit in history. According to a recent document posted on the agency’s website concerning UNRWA’s financial situation, a shortfall of $79.6 million for 2009 and $125.7 million for 2010 has been projected. It said a continuing lack of funds since 2005 had “resulted in the complete depletion of UNRWA’s working capital.
“UNRWA is faced with a dire financial crisis,” Salvatore Lombardo, director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, told The Daily Star. He said the agency’s operations in Lebanon were facing a $9 million deficit for 2010. “We have been operating with approximately the same budgets for the last [several] years whilst the needs are growing considerably and the cost of services is increasing,” he said. “Our expected budget is 14 percent less than what UNRWA needs to cover the most basic requirements of Palestine refugees.” 
The UN official added that although the agency would continue to provide health care, education and relief and social services, the standards of those services would drop. “Whilst UNRWA strives to ensure services are not cut, the overall environment it operates in will deteriorate,” he added. 
There are over 422,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon, most of who live in the country’s 12 squalid refugee camps. 
The figure may no longer be accurate, however, as UNRWA does not remove refugees who have moved abroad from its records. There are also an unknown number of nonregistered refugees and an additional 40,000 Palestinians residing in 42 so-called “gatherings,” or ghettoized neighborhoods. 
UNRWA has routinely faced funding shortages in the past, but the ongoing international financial crisis and a lack of financial reserves have resulted in a “situation of unprecedented gravity,” the UNRWA website said. 
The agency held its annual pledging conference at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, hoping the international community would respond to its financial emergency. “It would be timely, and extremely welcome, if UNRWA was to receive new pledges of support from unexpected quarters or else the announcement of increase in funding from those that have historically underperformed in this respect,” said Andrew Whitley on behalf of UNRWA Commissioner General Karen Abu Zayd ahead of the conference. 
“The refugees and our 30,000-strong Palestinian staff, who live in great anxiety these days about the prospect of further reductions in their modest living standards, would be enormously relieved.” UNRWA has warned salary cuts were straining relations with its employees. 
But Lombardo said that while pledges were made at the conference, it was “not enough to cover the shortfall for 2010.” 
Speaking in September on the occasion of UNRWA’s 60th anniversary, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged the agency’s serious funding shortages and appealed to the international community to give generously. “The agency’s work is too important for it to suffer budget crisis after budget crisis,” he said. 
UNRWA’s funding shortfall will impact other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with Palestinians, said John Viste of ANERA, an American NGO which provides humanitarian relief aid to Palestinian refugees. “It does affect us when UNRWA services are cut back.” 
Medicine, normally provided by UNRWA, was a case in point, Viste said. “If they don’t have any medicine available, others have to fill in the gap. If they can’t provide then the Palestinians are forced to buy, which places greater strain on their resources.” 
In spite of the financial difficulties, UNRWA is pursuing internal reform that requires no additional funding, Lombardo said. “We are committed to improving the management of our services. We will do so through decentralizing decision-making to the head teachers, medical officers and relief workers that run our schools, clinics and camp officers, communicating better with our beneficiaries and eliminating bureaucracy in our processes.” 
Nevertheless, the cutbacks have raised fears that the security situation in the camps could explode. “The consequences of the financial deficit extend beyond the level of quality of services we provide,” Lombardo said. “Instability feeds on poverty and a lack of opportunities. There are very concrete steps that can be taken to push back against such scenario. 
“Providing health, education, and relief and social services means not only teaching the young, caring for the sick and fending for the poor. It means creating a platform of stability on which future political progress can rest. UNRWA is part of the solution here in Lebanon,” he said.

Activists press Beirut to end discrimination against women

13 Feb

By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

BEIRUT: Gender equality activists came together in Beirut on Friday to urge Lebanon to lift reservations on the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), after Morocco became the first Arab country to drop all reservations to the document.

Beirut-based non-governmental organization The Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action (CRTD.A), organized a press conference at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA) in Beirut that was attended by several Arab ambassadors, Lebanese officials and ESCWA Executive Secretary Badr Omar AlDafa. The conference was held to mark Arab Women’s Day, celebrated annually on February 1.

Addressing the crowd, CRTD.A Director Lina Abou-Habib applauded Morocco’s decision to drop all reservations to CEDAW in December. “This decision crowns the years of struggle for Arab women,” she said. “We hope that Morocco’s action will motivate other Arab countries to commit to women’s rights through the lifting of all reservations to CEDAW.”

CRTD.A is regional coordinator of the Nationality Campaign which has for the last seven years advocated reform of Arab laws that prohibit women from passing on their nationality to their families.

While Lebanon is technically party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, it has yet to ratify the convention, citing like many other Middle Eastern countries, reservations on Section 2, Article 9, which specifies women’s equal rights to nationality.

 

Lebanese law allows male citizens married to foreigners to pass their nationality onto their wives and children, but does not permit the same for Lebanese women. According to the Nationality Campaign, there are 1,100 Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese. Denied Lebanese nationality, their families are required to pay regular residency permit fees and face serious obstacles entering the job market and obtaining affordable education or health care.

Speaking to The Daily Star on Sunday, Abou Habib said that rights activists had been encouraged by Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud’s recent drafting of a law that grants Lebanese citizenship to the families of Lebanese women. In late January, Barroud promised the draft law would be discussed and ratified “ahead of the parliamentary elections” in June.

“This is probably the most concrete step taken by the Lebanese government in addressing gender inequality,” Abou Habib said of Baroud’s proposed law. “We hope that the law will come into effect soon and that it does not place any reservations on the nationality of the father,” specifically regarding Palestinians. She said she hoped rights groups would be included in consultations regarding the drafting of the new law. “So long as citizens are not equal because of their gender, religion or class, we should stop calling Lebanon a country of freedom and democracy.”

UN Chief ‘Urges Israel to Pay Lebanon $1 billion’

10 Sep

UN chief ‘urges Israel to pay Lebanon $1 billion’
Request aims to compensate environmental damage
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Monday, September 08, 2008

UN chief 'urges Israel to pay Lebanon $1 billion'

 

BEIRUT: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has renewed calls for Israel to pay Lebanon around $1 billion in compensation for damage inflicted during the summer 2006 war with the Jewish state, news reports said on Saturday. The figure, which is based on calculations made by the World Bank, is intended to reimburse Lebanon for environmental and material damage it suffered during the war but most notably Israel’s bombing of the Jiyyeh power station, said the daily Al-Akhbar newspaper.

The attack, considered to be Lebanon’s worst ever environmental disaster, released between 12,500 and 15,000 tons of fuel oil into the Mediterranean Sea, polluting two-thirds of Lebanon’s coastline and endangering already vulnerable marine life. It also affected northern neighboring countries, including Syria.

Ban will present a report on the oil spill to the UN General Assembly before October this year, said Al-Akhbar. The report is said to include findings by the Lebanese National Center for Scientific Research and the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea, both of which have gathered evidence in Lebanon showing the increase of such medical conditions as skin diseases and pneumonia following the war.

In addition to environmental destruction, Lebanon suffered substantial damage to its infrastructure during the 34-day war, in which 1,200 Lebanese – mostly civilians – were killed and 4,409 wounded. Throughout and following the conflict, Israel maintained a tight sea and air blockade on the country, hampering humanitarian assistance and evacuation efforts.

A report published by the UN-appointed Commission of Inquiry on Lebanon in November 2006 found that Israel had used “excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force” during the conflict, which followed Hizbullah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers.

The Lebanese government said 32 “vital points” came under attack, with 109 bridges, 137 roads and 137 factories targeted by Israeli air strikes. Thirty UN positions came under “direct attack,” added the report, resulting in the death of internationally “protected personnel.” A number of medical facilities and private homes also came under fire.

The UN report said it was “convinced” that the bombing of Jiyyeh was a “premeditated” attack and that it “considers that it will take years for Lebanon, with the help of the international community, to be able to rebuild all the damaged buildings and other facilities.” Israel’s actions, which the UN dubbed “collective punishment,” led to the internal displacement of 735,000 people and the evacuation of 230,000 others.

The report also stated that the “failure” of Israel “to take the necessary precautionary measures violated Israel’s obligations to protect the natural environment and the right to health. In particular it caused significant damage to the Byblos archaeological site, included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.”

Lebanon also continues to suffer from the presence of unexploded cluster munitions. Israeli artillery and warplanes dropped an estimated 4 million cluster bombs over South Lebanon, most during the last 48 hours of the conflict – after a cease-fire was assured – the UN estimated. Earlier this month, the body responsible for de-mining efforts in Lebanon, the UN Mine Action Co-ordination Center, said it would be forced to halt its work due to a lack of funds.

Israel has ignored all UN requests made since August 2007 to compensate Lebanon.