US embassy cable - 02AMMAN2396

UNRWA DONORS MEETING HIGHLIGHTS CRISIS GRIPPING AGENCY

Identifier: 02AMMAN2396
Wikileaks: View 02AMMAN2396 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Amman
Created: 2002-05-14 15:57:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREF PREL EAID KPAL KWBG IS JO
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 AMMAN 002396 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR PRM AND NEA; PLEASE PASS TO USAID 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/13/2012 
TAGS: PREF, PREL, EAID, KPAL, KWBG, IS, JO 
SUBJECT: UNRWA DONORS MEETING HIGHLIGHTS CRISIS GRIPPING 
AGENCY 
 
 
Classified By: DCM GREG BERRY, PER 1.5 (B) AND (D). 
 
1.  (SBU) Summary and comment:  UNRWA's May 8-9 meeting of 
major donors and host governments highlighted the crisis 
gripping the humanitarian agency as a result of ongoing 
Israeli-Palestinian tensions.  Continued Israeli closures in 
the West Bank and Gaza have severely hindered UNRWA's ability 
to provide services and relief.  Financially, UNRWA's General 
Fund (basic services) programs are on solid ground, but its 
emergency programs are severely underfunded.  UNRWA warned 
that damages resulting from the March-April Israeli offensive 
will require USD 65 million in new emergency funding, in 
addition to the USD 117 million emergency appeal launched in 
January 2002.  (USD 35 million of these needs should be met 
by the UAE's pledge to rebuild Jenin refugee camp.)  No 
significant new contributions were announced at the meeting 
and UNRWA confirmed in side discussions that Japan and 
Denmark had cut their contributions. 
 
2.  (C) Summary and comment continued:  If UNRWA is to 
continue to be the primary refugee humanitarian assistance 
provider in the West Bank and Gaza, continued, high-level 
engagement on access issues will be crucial, as will 
continued financial support.  But as UNRWA's mandate becomes 
even more intertwined with daily political pressures, we need 
to help UNRWA focus on its humanitarian mandate and minimize 
friction created by impolitic or ill-considered statements. 
The key issue is access for the provision of humanitarian 
relief -- any friction that gets in the way of that should be 
minimized.  End summary and comment. 
 
3.  (U) On May 8-9, UNRWA held its semiannual meeting of 
major donors and host governments in Amman.  The U.S. 
delegation consisted of Charge Greg Berry, PRM PDAS Rich 
Greene, PRM Program Officer Jan Levin and Regional Refcoord 
Joan Polaschik. 
 
LIMITED ACCESS CONTINUES TO HINDER UNRWA OPERATIONS 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
 
4.  (SBU) UNRWA Commissioner General Peter Hansen opened the 
meeting by telling donors that UNRWA had "never faced a more 
difficult situation."  With the majority of Palestinian 
refugees in the West Bank and Gaza now living below the 
poverty line, UNRWA's services are more important than ever 
before.  Yet Israeli denial of access to UNRWA and other 
humanitarian relief agencies is making it extremely difficult 
for UNRWA to meet its mandate.  Hansen characterized recent 
Israeli military operations as a "campaign against the camps" 
and reported that the IDF had targeted UN facilities such as 
schools and health centers, in violation of the UN's 
privileges and immunities.  28 new UNRWA classrooms under 
construction in Askar camp, for example, were destroyed by 
the IDF in the April incursions. 
 
5.  (SBU) UNRWA West Bank Field Director Richard Cook 
provided a detailed description of the hardships facing the 
agency.  Due to the closure-induced economic difficulties 
plaguing the West Bank and Gaza since September 2000, Cook 
reported that most Palestinian refugees were unable to stock 
the food, medicines or savings to cope with the recent 
Israeli military offensive.  As a result, many more refugees 
are now dependent on UNRWA for basic services. 
 
6.  (SBU) Cook said that UNRWA's humanitarian access is the 
"worst" he has seen in recent years.  (Cook is a veteran of 
UNRWA relief operations in the first intifada.)  UNRWA's West 
Bank field office is operating at one-third of capacity, as 
Palestinian staff cannot leave their homes to reach work. 
Cook reported that UNRWA has the human resources necessary to 
cope with the current emergency, but its talent is stuck in 
Nablus, Bethlehem and Jenin.  When UNRWA tried to move its 
Palestinian staff members through the West Bank to respond to 
the emergency, its employees were "arrested and abused" and 
one employee was killed.  (Note:  With the exception of 13 
international staff members, UNRWA relies on 4,200 
Palestinian staff members to operate its schools, clinics and 
relief services throughout the West Bank.)  Cook believes the 
closures will not be eased in the foreseeable future. 
 
7.  (SBU) Cook reported that UNRWA's coordination with the 
IDF was "as good as possible at the top," but that 
coordination broke down on the ground.  He also said UNRWA 
was having increasing difficulty getting any response to its 
inquiries, either by phone or letter.  Cook said the Israeli 
authorities had stopped issuing permits to UNRWA staff -- 
including Jerusalem permits required for field office staff 
-- "in violation of UN privileges and immunities."  During 
the March and April offensives, UNRWA vehicles and staff were 
fired upon, and the IDF forcibly entered UN properties 
including schools and vocational training centers.  Cook said 
the IDF "time and time again" used UNRWA buildings as 
defensive positions and detention centers. 
JENIN CAMP UPDATE 
----------------- 
 
8.  (C) UNRWA's first priority for Jenin camp reconstruction 
is removal of unexploded ordnance (UXO).  UNRWA is unable to 
remove any of the rubble or rebuild the 800 destroyed 
shelters until the large amounts of UXO in the camp have been 
removed.  Cook told donors the necessary equipment to remove 
and dispose of UXO contains explosives and therefore -- 
according to Israeli authorities -- poses a security risk. 
Although the Israeli government possesses the necessary 
equipment to handle the UXO, it will not lend the equipment 
to UNRWA unless it agrees to photograph and catalogue the 
(presumably Palestinian-origin) UXO found in the camp.  Cook 
said UNRWA refuses to meet this condition, as it will impose 
unnecessary and potentially life-threatening delays on the 
removal of the ordnance.  (In a separate conversation with 
refcoord, Cook said other nations have offered to send the 
equipment to UNRWA, but that Israel has said it would deny 
entry for the equipment.) 
 
9.  (U) Once the UXO and rubble have been removed from Jenin 
camp, UNRWA will begin the 18-month process of rebuilding the 
camp.  Deputy Syria Field Director Lex Takkenberg (manager of 
the USG-funded Neirab housing project) has been dispatched to 
Jenin to conduct a survey of Jenin camp residents' needs and 
to oversee reconstruction efforts.  ComGen Hansen reported 
that the UAE has pledged USD 35 million to rebuild the camp. 
Many donors expressed concern at the steep (USD 30,000) unit 
costs implicit in the UAE's donation.  UNRWA officials 
assured donors that per-unit costs included rubble removal 
and infrastructure repairs required to rebuild the camp. 
 
EMERGENCY APPEAL UNDERFUNDED; NEW NEEDS ESTIMATED AT USD 65 
MILLION 
--------------------------------------------- -------------- 
 
10.  (U) Hansen reported that UNRWA's 2001 emergency appeals 
were funded at 80 percent, a "respectable" showing for any 
appeal.  However, the USD 117 million appeal issued in 
January 2002 was severely underfunded, with only USD 47 
million received to date (including a USD 30 million 
contribution from the U.S.).  West Bank Director Cook 
reported that UNRWA had not already run out of cash only 
because continuing access difficulties had prevented the 
agency from implementing most of its planned emergency 
activities, such as temporary employment creation or remedial 
education programs.  Moreover, many of UNRWA's relief 
activities during the April offensive (distribution of food, 
water, blankets) were conducted using supplies donated by 
Israeli Arabs and international volunteers from other UN 
agencies. 
 
11.  (U) Based on its very preliminary assessment of damages 
and social needs resulting from the Israeli incursions, UNRWA 
believes it will need USD 65 million in additional emergency 
funding, beyond the USD 117 million requested in the January 
2002 appeal.  Cook confirmed that the USD 65 million includes 
the USD 35 million already pledged by the UAE to rebuild 
Jenin refugee camp, leaving the unfunded new needs at USD 30 
million.  Therefore, with only USD 47 million in its 
emergency coffers to date, UNRWA needs an estimated USD 100 
million to continue its West Bank and Gaza emergency programs 
through the end of the year.  Hansen and Cook both cautioned 
that the figure could be much greater if closures are 
tightened or further military incursions occur.  Hansen also 
told donors UNRWA likely would need more international staff 
to cover the functions normally performed by Palestinian 
staff who cannot move freely through the West Bank and Gaza. 
 
REGULAR PROGRAMS ON SOLID FINANCIAL GROUND, BUT PROJECT FUNDS 
USED TO COVER CASH SHORTFALLS 
--------------------------------------------- --------------- 
 
12.  (U) Reporting that UNRWA had ended the year 2001 with 
the "highest budget growth in decades," Hansen told donors 
that UNRWA had been able to repay USD 8.9 million in debt to 
its project fund and set aside funding for a working capital 
reserve.  Nevertheless, UNRWA in 2002 expected a budget 
deficit of USD 12.3 million, as its expected contributions 
likely would not keep pace with the natural growth of the 
refugee population.  Hansen announced that two donors (later 
identified as Japan and Denmark) planned to reduce their 
contributions this year. 
 
13.  (U) Hansen also admitted to donors that UNRWA had used 
its special project accounts to cover cash shortfalls and 
meet basic operating expenses such as payroll.  Hansen 
asserted that UNRWA's use of special project funds for 
general programs had not slowed project implementation.  He 
told donors that UNRWA's use of a unified cash account is 
standard UN practice and allows the voluntarily funded agency 
to keep operations running in spite of cash shortfalls. 
Hansen also told donors UNRWA would be able to reduce its 
project deficit more quickly if it could solve the PA VAT 
problem. 
 
MEETING ATMOSPHERICS 
-------------------- 
 
14.  (C) Statements by all delegations -- donors and host 
governments alike -- focused on the many difficulties UNRWA 
faces in carrying out its mandate.  Criticism of Israeli 
targeting of humanitarian workers and restrictions upon 
UNRWA's mobility was quite strong, as was implied criticism 
of perceived U.S. failure to compel the GOI to provide 
humanitarian access.  In both his public statements and 
private discussions with USG officials, Hansen at times 
adopted a tone that seemed to push up against the limits of 
UNRWA's strictly apolitical humanitarian mandate.  While 
Hansen's remarks certainly reflected an accurate assessment 
of extremely difficult relations between UNRWA and Israeli 
government, he needs to work with Israel to accomplish 
humanitarian objectives. 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
15.  (C) If UNRWA is to continue to be the primary refugee 
humanitarian assistance provider in the West Bank and Gaza, 
continued, high-level engagement on access issues will be 
crucial, as will continued financial support.  But as UNRWA's 
mandate becomes even more intertwined with daily political 
pressures, we also need to help UNRWA remain focused on its 
humanitarian mandate and minimize friction created by 
rhetorical statements.  In private conversation, Hansen 
himself acknowledged the importance of carefully crafting 
UNRWA statements to avoid political quagmires, but his 
rhetoric sometimes threatened to get the better of him.  The 
key point is the provision of humanitarian assistance; 
unnecessary friction is not helpful in that regard. 
Gnehm 

Latest source of this page is cablebrowser-2, released 2011-10-04