UNRWA 1998-1999: "Achievement, Austerity, and Anxiety"

Speaking on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of UNRWA, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan noted that "despite the urgent need to create economic and social conditions conducive to peace, UNRWA today finds itself in a state of financial strangulation." The assessment is born out in the Agency's latest annual report, which describes 1998-99 as a year of achievement but also one of continued austerity and anxiety. According to the report, "existing services were sustained only by retention of prior austerity and cost reduction measures."

The year ended with UNRWA running a deficit of $61.9 million, depleted cash and working capital reserves. Donor funding for UNRWA continues to decline relative to the growth of the refugee population. In order to maintain services at the existing level, donor funding should increase at 5% per annum. The funding crisis has meant that funding per refugee has fallen from $200 in 1975 to $70 in 1997.

UNRWA 1998 Budget and Host Country Spending 1998-99 (US$ million) 

Country UNRWA Host Country
Jordan 73.8 323*
Lebanon 45.3 5
Syria 23.3 53.5
West Bank/Gaza 152.9 n/a

*Includes spending on 1967 displaced Palestinians.

UNRWA's latest report notes, however, that the mid-1999 regular cash budget appeared to break even in terms of income and expenditures despite the fact that by mid-year the EC contribution was still delayed. The budget nonetheless was far below the 1999 level.

Speaking at the 1999 UNRWA donor conference, the Agency's Commissioner General, Peter Hansen, sounded a note of optimism that it would be possible to restore UNRWA programs "to their long-established levels of quality and integrity," in 2000 using new planning and budgeting procedures. Twenty of 29 donors present pledged $172 for funding of the regular UNRWA budget. Pledges from Egypt and the Czech Republic were received in writing, while the remaining 7 donors stated that pledges would be forthcoming. Japan has since announced pledges of $10 million for the regular budget bringing total pledges to $182 million.

To date, however, most donor pledges for 2000 do not meet the required 5% growth needed to keep pace with the growth of the refugee population. The US continues to be the largest single donor to UNRWA, however, according to existing pledges for 1999-2000, Norway and Sweden are the most generous on a per capita basis with the US being the 7th most generous donor among existing pledges. UNRWA's cash budget for 1999-2000 is set at $280.4 million with an additional $20.5 million set for voluntary in-kind contributions and $59.3 million for project funding. Existing pledges thus represent slightly less than half of the required funding for the coming fiscal year.

Donor Contributions to UNRWA, 1990-1998 (Regular Budget + Projects)

Top 13 Donors (Contributions in US$) 

Top 13 Donor Pledges  1999-2000 ($US Equivalent)  per capita
US 80,000,000 0.29
EU  39,900,000 0.11
Japan  10,000,000 0.08
Sweden  18,800,000  2.11
Norway  12,500,000  2.82
Denmark  n/a n/a
UK n/a n/a
Netherlands  5,000,000 0.32
Germany  4,480,000 0.05
Saudi Arabic  n/a n/a
Italy n/a n/a
Switzerland  4,900,000  0.67
Canada n/a n/a
SUB-Total  175,580,000  
Other donors*  6,594,200  
TOTAL   182,174,200

General Notes:
1. The table is compiled from data supplied in UNRWA’s annual reports. It includes all contributions in cash and kind (mainly food commodities from the EC). Not included are exceptional contributions from EMLOT fund (emergency fund for Lebanon and the Occupied Territories, used to finance the special intifada programs and Lebanon emergencies, phased out since 1994), as these donations came usually from special budget lines.

2. Figures consist of actual receipts, i.e., all losses and gains accounted for by exchange rates are included. (All donors give in their own currencies, which are then converted to dollars.)

3. There is no calculation for inflation, so the comparisons between 1990 and 1998 are even less than cited.

4. Comparisons between 1990 and 1998 do not reflect real changes in contributions in the years between 1990 and 1998. 

Top 13 Donor Pledges  1999-2000 ($US Equivalent)  per capita
US 80,000,000 0.29
EU  39,900,000 0.11
Japan  10,000,000 0.08
Sweden  18,800,000  2.11
Norway  12,500,000  2.82
Denmark  n/a n/a
UK n/a n/a
Netherlands  5,000,000 0.32
Germany  4,480,000 0.05
Saudi Arabic  n/a n/a
Italy n/a n/a
Switzerland  4,900,000  0.67
Canada n/a n/a
SUB-Total  175,580,000  
Other donors*  6,594,200  
TOTAL   182,174,200


*Includes Cyprus ($10,000), Spain ($3,200,000), Luxembourg ($275,000), Tunisia ($10,000), Greece ($400,000), UAE ($500,000), Malaysia ($20,000), India ($5,200), Austria ($360,000), China ($60,000), Turkey ($200,000), Bahrain ($15,000), Kuwait ($1,500,000), Egypt ($10,000), Czech Republic ($29,000).

Note: Population for per capita generosity based on mid-1999. Figures for the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait include non-nationals.

Impact of Austerity Measures

EDUCATION: UNRWA continues to employee contract teachers rather than staff employees, originally instituted in Gaza in 1994. Gaza still retains the highest number of contract UNRWA teachers with almost of quarter of the teaching staff employed on a contract basis. Despite an expanded program of school construction, there has been no significant improvement in double shifting of schools. In Jordan 93% of the schools were double-shifted with 94% double shifted in Syria. The level of school construction, given the current funding of UNRWA, including the Peace Implementation Programme (PIP), simply cannot keep pace with the increase of enrollment in UNRWA schools. While the number of new schools increased by 1.6%, enrollment increased by 15%. The average class size increased to 44, which was the 6th consecutive increase.

Existing school buildings, moreover, continue to require significant renovations as many were built in the 1950s and 1960s. Just over a fifth of schools in Jordan are in unsatisfactory rented buildings. In Lebanon and Syria more than 40% and 8.2% of schools, respectively, are in unsatisfactory rented premises. In the West Bank some 20% of schools are in unsatisfactory rented buildings. UNRWA also discontinued scholarships in 1997-98 from the regular budget, although some scholars were supported through project funding until graduation. The program affected 185 scholars. Nominal voluntary contributions from pupils and trainees in the year in all fields except Gaza amounted to just over $600,000.

HEALTH: Due to financial constraints, health allocations were below the 1996-97 level or about $13.50 per refugee per year which is a fraction of the current level of health care expenditures by other providers in UNRWA areas of operation. Due to a freeze in staff recruitment, the number of staff fell below the level needed to meet increasing needs. On average the patient doctor load was 100 patients per doctor per day. Continued pressure on resources, including population growth, inflation, increased medical costs and funding shortfalls, necessitated co-payments for treatment at targeted hospitals, suspension of cash subsidies for emergency treatment at private hospitals in Jordan, staff recruitment freeze, a reduction in the procurements for medical supplies and maintenance of health premises, and reduction in travel and training budgets. Refugees in Lebanon are exempt from co-payments except for specialized life-saving treatment.

RELIEF AND ASSISTANCE: The number of Special Hardship Cases (SHC) increased by 2.3% in 1998 to reach 200,078. Increasing narrower guidelines for eligibility kept the number of SHC from a higher increase. Approximately 5.5% of the registered refugee population are considered to be special hardship cases. In Lebanon, however, the number of SHC reached 10.6% of thregistered refugee population. In Syria 4.6% of refugees are SHC. The regular budget allocation for special cash assistance remained frozen in 1997-98. It is estimated that some 10,000 SHC families are in need of selective cash assistance. While more than double the number of SHC family dwellings were rehabilitated during the year (1,305) due to extra-budgetary funding (the regular budget was frozen in August 1997), it is estimated that nearly 13,000 SHC families or some 50,000 persons live in substandard housing, particularly in Lebanon. In the West Bank, SHC made up 5.3% of the registered refugee population but only 0.8% of the population in Gaza. More than 1,000 shelters were rehabilitated in Gaza. In Lebanon, however, rehabilitation was limited due to government restrictions on the import of construction materials into camps. In Jordan 311 SHC shelters remain on a waiting list for rehabilitation. Social workers remained stretched with some 300 cases per worker per year, in excess of the 250 recommended average, meaning that each worker was able to spend only 5 hours per family each in the year. There are as many as 340 cases per worker in Syria. справки кому надо было по болезни? Вот тут посмотрите...

[Box:] PIP - Under the Peace Implementation Programme (UNRWA's extra-budgetary program to support the peace process), the construction of 10 schools was completed, and an additional 39 classrooms, 4 specialized rooms (labs and libraries), two health centres, one health lab, one mother and child centre, two women's programme centres, two community rehabilitation centres, 3 libraries at women's programme centres. A total of 334 shelters for SHC families were rehabilitated. The Programme, however, continues to provide the bulk of its assistance to refugees in the West Bank and Gaza. Combined investment in these two areas under the PIP totaled $5.5 million in the 1998-99 year with a total of $1.2 million being invested in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. Moreover, funding for the PIP decline by 21% from the previous year with several top UNRWA donors - Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Switzerland - foregoing donations to the project fund of UNRWA.