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UN Seeks $120 Million for Aid to Palestinian Refugees - 2002-01-31

The United Nations agency that aids Palestinian refugees has issued an emergency appeal for almost $120 million to provide food, medicine and work programs to people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, known as UNRWA, expressed alarm Thursday over the ever-increasing violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

Peter Hansen says prolonged Israeli curfews, house demolitions and economic blockades have taken an alarming toll on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. "Even if peace were to break out tomorrow, the damage that has been done over the past 15-16 months is such that we will need fully to have that additional funding to meet very basic and urgent needs of the refugees, half of which have now been pushed into absolute poverty, below poverty thresholds," he said.

Mr. Hansen says that unemployment in Gaza is now well over 50 percent. UNRWA, he says, is budgeting $55 million to create or maintain jobs, while $26 million would be used to provide the poorest families with basic food supplies, such as flour, rice and oil. Other money would go for educational programs and to finance emergency medical supplies and mobile health teams.

Mr. Hansen says UNRWA has schools in the territories, but many of the children have to pass Israeli checkpoints to get to them. And this, he says, is not always easy. "We have areas where pupils have to walk seven to ten kilometers to school, past Israeli checkpoints, where it has been very difficult for them to get through, where they have been physically mistreated, where they come shaky and scared to school, after experiences at the checkpoints with dogs," he said.

Mr. Hansen said he hoped Arab countries, which have not donated significant amounts to other UNRWA emergency appeals, would respond generously this time.

This is the fourth emergency appeal the agency has made since the latest round of fighting began between Israelis and Palestinians about 16 months ago.