Gulf relief agencies seek to fill UNWRAs funding gap as humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens

The Humanitarian crisis in Gaza continues to worsen every day. Amid talk of an imminent ceasefire during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, famine and starvation and completely inhumane conditions now affect the entire population of the territory.

The problem has been exacerbated by the decision of a number of western donors to stop or suspend funding to the main UN humanitarian agency in Gaza, UNWRA, based on claims that some of its staff were involved in the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel. Relief agencies in the Gulf states and others are now moving to try to fill the funding gap.

On its part, the European Union, one of the largest donors to Palestinian humanitarian relief, has reviewed its stance on the funding of UNWRA.

Today, the Commission has decided to allocate an additional EUR 68 million to support the Palestinian population across the region to be implemented through international partners like the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. This comes in addition to the foreseen EUR 82 million of aid to be implemented through UNRWA in 2024, bringing the total to EUR 150 million. The Commission will proceed to paying EUR 50 million of the UNRWA envelope next week.

Furthermore, the Commission has allocated EUR 125 million of humanitarian aid for Palestinians for 2024. The Commission is contracting the first EUR 16 million today.

A statement by the European Commission on Friday (1 March) said that  "as set out on 29 January, the Commission has assessed its funding decision for UNRWA in light of the very serious allegations made on 24 January that implicate several UNRWA staff in the heinous 7 October attacks. It took account of the action taken by the UN and the commitments the Commission required from UNRWA."

"The Commission welcomes the UN's Office for Internal Oversight Services investigation to shed light into the serious allegations against UNRWA staff. Furthermore, it commends the UN for creating an independent Review Group led by Catherine Colonna to assess whether the Agency is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and respond to allegations of serious breaches.

Following exchanges with the Commission, UNRWA has also indicated that it stands ready to ensure that a review of its staff is carried out to confirm they did not participate in the attacks and that further controls are put in place to mitigate such risks in the future.

UNRWA has agreed to the launch of an audit of the Agency to be conducted by EU appointed external experts. This audit will review the control systems to prevent the possible involvement of its staff and assets in terrorist activities.

Finally, UNRWA agrees to the strengthening of its department of internal investigations and the governance surrounding it.

UNRWA and the Commission have today confirmed their understanding on these points. On this basis, and following the exchange of letters with UNRWA confirming its commitments, the Commission will proceed disburse a first tranche of EUR 50 million out of the EUR 82 million foreseen for UNRWA for 2024.

The second and third tranches of EUR 16 million will be released in line with the implementation of this agreement.

Beyond its support to UNRWA, the Commission remains fully committed to addressing the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza but also more widely in the region. For this purpose, it will allocate an additional EUR 68 million for in 2024."

European Commission president,Ursola von der Leyen said: 

"We stand by the Palestinian people in Gaza and elsewhere in the region. Innocent Palestinians should not have to pay the price for the crimes of terrorist group Hamas. They face terrible conditions putting their lives at risk because of lack of access to sufficient food and other basic needs. That is why we are reinforcing our support to them this year by a further EUR 68 million.”

Meanwhile Gulf countries are stepping up  their support for UNWRA to fill remaining gaps.

Dr Abdullah Al Rabeeah, supervisor general of Saudi Arabia's top aid agency KSrelief, said Riyadh and regional and international partners were working to fill the funding gaps for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNWRA), caused by major donor cuts.

"We are counting on other partners in the region and beyond," Dr Al Rabeeah told the UAE newspaper, The National, at the Human Capability Initiative conference in Riyadh.

The Saudi agency provided more than $15 million in financial support to UNRWA last November and works closely with it in Gaza to help civilians, which Dr Al Rabeeah says is the aim of KSrelief and his country.

"UNRWA is the largest and most capable organisation on the ground so we will continue to support it in order to reach poor civilians who are at risk of famine and epidemic diseases," he said.

The freeze from 14 countries came after claims that a small number of the agency’s staff were involved in Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which UNRWA denies.

“We also hope that the global funders will revisit their stance and to be able to continue support for UNRWA. It is in the end a UN agency and it is helping poor civilians, so supporting it means supporting those at risk in Gaza," Dr Al Rabeeah said.

KSrelief is the humanitarian arm of the Saudi kingdom for delivering aid and relief beyond its borders. As the Muslim world prepares for Ramadan, food and medical aid supplies are being prioritised.

Dr Al Rabeeah said KSrelief was in constant communication with other humanitarian groups in the Gaza Strip, because "we don't want the people to suffer the combined effects of famine and fasting” during the holy month.

In response to concerning reports of malnutrition facing vulnerable people in the enclave, especially women and children, Dr Al Rabeeah said KSrelief's priorities were to provide food and shelter for Gazans, but it was also looking at the health care of children and the protection of women and the elderly.

Since it was founded, KSrelief has delivered relief to 95 countries and initiated more than 2,700 projects directly and in partnership with UN agencies, international and national NGOs, providing more than $6.4 billion in aid, it says.

The humanitarian agency has also raised an impressive amount of money through its Sahem Platform, a public relief campaign for Palestinians in Gaza.

“I'm proud to say we are approaching $170 million in donations coming from the public on Sahem," he added.

In Gaza, where Israel's war has killed more than 30,000 people, the enclave's 2.3 million residents lack access to food, water, adequate shelter and basic supplies, the UN has warned.

The UN children's agency, Unicef, has said an alarming lack of food, surging malnutrition and disease could lead to an “explosion” in child deaths in Gaza.

On February 19 it estimated that one in six children aged under two in Gaza were acutely malnourished.

UNRWA's commissioner general Philippe Lazzarini has said he fears Gaza is on the “edge of a monumental disaster” that could have severe consequences for peace, security and human rights in the region.

Dr Al Rabeeah called for the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow aid into Gaza under a ceasefire.

"As a humanitarian agency, my hope and plea is to see all corridors open and for the ceasefire to start," he said.

source: with the European Commission (Brussels), The National (Abu Dhabi), and agencies
photo: Humanitarian aid being distributed in Gaza (picture courtesy of WHO)

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