UNRWA says it is overcoming US funding cuts
GENEVA - The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has nearly overcome a crippling funding crisis caused by President Donald Trump cancelling the US aid contribution, agency chief Pierre Kraehenbuehl said Thursday.
The organisation, known as UNRWA, had counted on a budget of $1.2 billion (1 billion euros) for 2018 but faced a gap of $446 million when the Trump administration announced it was cutting support.
UNRWA responded to its "unprecedented" financial pressures by seeking support across UN member-states and raised an additional $382 million, bringing the shortfall for the year down to just $64 million, Kraehenbuehl told reporters in Geneva.
He said he hoped the gap could still be trimmed further in the coming weeks.
"I'll be very honest in saying, I don't think many people believed that we would be able to overcome a $446 million shortfall at the beginning of the year," said Kraehenbuehl, who took charge of UNRWA in 2014.
He credited the European Union and especially four Gulf countries with increasing support.
Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates upped their support to $50 million each to offset Trump's cuts, the UNRWA chief said.
The agency's 2019 budget has not been finalised, but Kraehenbuehl stressed it was important "to preserve those new levels of funding".
The United Stated had previously been UNRWA's largest contributor.
But the Trump administration as well as Israel say they oppose the way the organisation operates and how it calculates the number of Palestinian refugees.
UNRWA was set up in 1950 to help Palestinian refugees who lost their homes because of the 1948 Middle East conflict. Its assistance includes schools, healthcare centres and food distribution.
More than 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled during the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation.
They and all their descendants are deemed by the UN agency to be refugees who fall under its remit.