Written by: Dr. Muhanad Abu Rajila - Economist and lecturer at the Faculty of Economy at Birzeit University

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) plays a vital role in supporting Palestinian refugees, specifically because it provides services in several areas such as education, health, social services and infrastructure as well as micro-financing. Because of its role in ensuring political, social and economic stability in the Palestinian refugee camps, the UNRWA’s donor countries should have increased their financial support (An amount of 160 million dollars was provided) at the donors’ conference held on June 23, 2022. This should have been done to cover the deficit UNRWA is suffering from, which exceeded the budget of $100 million. 

In order to cover their needs for health services, education and social security, Palestinian refugees mainly depend on the services provided by UNRWA. The estimated budget the agency needs to provide refugees with health and education is almost the equivalent of 1.5 billion euros. This budget allows the UNRWA to provide basic services to 5.7 million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Political support was endorsed by donor countries for the active role of the UNRWA to keep the refugee issues on the negotiations table with the Israeli side. This has emphasised the need to focus efforts to achieve stability in its funding on the long run. The financial deficit UNRWA is suffering from is depriving more than 46,000 students in the West Bank and about 282,000 students in the Gaza Strip from education opportunities. This in turn resulted in reducing school enrolment numbers, decreasing awareness and increasing the violence among students within the camps. This lead to social issues that the UNRWA seeks to combat with education.

Additionally,, access to primary health care services such as medicine for about 476,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip and 871,000 refugees in West Bank camps is deeply affected.  Emergency food and materials aid the poorest refugees but the financial deficit is reflected on the economy. It began by reducing UNRWA workers who provide services in various sectors. This means that a number of refugees will be unemployed, which in turn increases the level of poverty in Palestine. Poverty had a remarkable increase over the years reaching an average of 29.2%, according to the data of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics for the year 2020.

The decrease in the quality and number of programmes provided by UNRWA in refugee camps has casted its shadow on the refugee camps infrastructure including the quality of potable water. Health conditions worsened due to the lack of essential medicines and the increase in medicine prices in the Palestinian market. There was also a recorded decline in micro-financing, which in 2020 was $6,179,799 in the West Bank and $2,231,600 Gaza Strip. Thus, opportunities for new businesses were lost which could have created new job opportunities.

The difficult financial situation of UNRWA adds more distress to the lives of the refugees. For instance, when UNRWA reduces expenditures in education, this will increase the number of students in the one classroom to 50 children. Health care expenditures reduce the time doctors spends with patients, which may lead to appointing many employees in short-term, non-renewable contracts.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.