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UN Appeals for Funds to Help Palestinian Refugees

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, UNRWA, is appealing for nearly $200 million over the coming year. The money will be used to provide humanitarian assistance for 1.6 million refugees living in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

UNRWA says three years of curfews, closures and conflict in the West Bank and Gaza have plunged two thirds of the population into dire poverty, and increased hunger. The agency says that also has restricted Palestinians' access to health and education.

This is the seventh emergency appeal issued by the U.N. agency on behalf of the Palestinians since the intifada, or uprising, erupted in September 2000. UNRWA Spokesman Mattias Burchard says, most of these appeals have been badly underfunded, forcing the agency to cut back on essential relief programs. For example, he says, the agency has had to cut food rations in half for one million people.

"We had to discontinue job creation projects," he said. "We were not sending out people just to clean the streets and whitewash walls, but essentially to improve the infrastructure in the camps, to do some roads, to do some sewage cleaning and all these things. So, really useful jobs, but all this had to be discontinued."

Mr. Burchard says a critical element of the program will be to provide help to the tens of thousands of refugees whose livelihoods are threatened by the construction of a security barrier.

Israel says the barrier is necessary to prevent suicide bombers from entering its territory. The Palestinians say the barrier is making it impossible for many of them to get to their fields or other places of work.

UNRWA says it will continue to monitor the impact of the barrier on refugees. It says the first phase of construction already has put the jobs of 90,000 refugees at risk.

Mr. Burchard says money is needed to rehouse some of the more than 15,000 refugees, whose homes have been demolished in the West Bank and Gaza since the start of the intifada.

"These people have either been put into tents, or we were able to put them with some relatives, or they live in some shacks somewhere," said Mattias Burchard. "So, they are in a very deplorable situation, and we would like to be able to rehouse them in proper accommodations."

Mr. Burchard says other pressing needs include more health services, educational support programs and counseling for traumatized children.