The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is appealing for $1.6 billion to provide life-saving assistance for more than five million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and countries across the Middle East.
The request covers the increased needs of Palestinian refugees in the face of skyrocketing unemployment and poverty. U.N. officials say an estimated 2.3 million refugees across the Middle East are living in poverty, with many struggling to survive on less than $2 a day.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic is posing serious health risks and worsening the economic hardships.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said the agency's humanitarian operations are a lifeline for the most destitute.
"UNRWA prevents them from falling deeper into poverty and from resorting to negative coping mechanisms, such as child labor, early marriage, migration through dangerous routes or, at times, radicalization," he said. "It is also an investment in regional stability."
The Palestinian refugees are one of the most vulnerable communities in a highly volatile region, Lazzarini said, adding that UNRWA is, at times, the only predictable and reliable source of basic services for the refugees.
The agency provides education to a half-million girls and boys, and primary health care for two million people. In addition, Lazzarini said, millions of refugees suffering from the ongoing humanitarian crises in the Palestinian territories, in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon receive cash and food assistance.
However, Lazzarini warned, these vital services are hanging by a thread. Over the last decade, UNRWA has been expected to deliver services to millions of refugees, while the resources needed to do so have been withering away.
"We have been able to handle this tension first by using our financial reserves, then through austerity measures and finally through increased liabilities," he said. "Today, we have reached our limit. If this tension is not addressed, the agency faces the risk of collapsing like a 'house of cards.'"
UNRWA has enough money to operate for the next two to three months, Lazzarini said, after which its ability to provide essential relief to millions of Palestinian refugees will be open to question.