8 October 2008The United Nations agency entrusted with assisting Palestinian refugees issued an urgent appeal today for Arab funds for emergency aid for 30,000 people whose homes were destroyed by fighting last year in northern Lebanon, noting that so far only the United States has come forward with a firm pledge. Last month, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) appealed for $43 million for temporary services such as emergency food rations and shelter for the refugees from the Nahr el Bared Camp. So far only the US has pledged $4.3 million, while a few European donors have indicated a willingness to pledge, the agency said, noting that no donations have been forthcoming from Arab donors. UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd called on “Arab donors to help UNRWA respond adequately to the humanitarian needs of these refugees who have endured more than their fair share of misery and displacement.” The agency’s officials have said that if funds do not come in soon, essential emergency programmes will be severely reduced, since $2.5 million is needed every month for basic emergency aid. “Unless we receive additional contributions by the end of the year, services to refugees will suffer. We must not allow that to happen,” Ms. AbuZayd said in Vienna at the signing of an agreement between UNRWA and the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), worth $5 million, for building eight new schools to replace those destroyed by the fighting in Nahr el Bared. OFID has contributed $7 million to UNRWA projects since 2004 and today is the single largest supporter of the agency’s microfinance programmes which give refugees an escape from the poverty trap and offer financial self-sufficiency. “This is a cooperative enterprise for which UNRWA is grateful and in which we can all take pride,” she said. She noted that OFID was among the first donors to respond to a joint appeal by UNRWA and the Lebanese Government for $445 million for rebuilding Nahr el Bared, the largest project in the agency’s nearly 60-year history. Of the $57.8 million pledged so far, 91 per cent came from Western governments. “I hope I will soon learn of Arab government pledges, widely anticipated – and essential – if this project is to go ahead as planned,” she said. Overall, she said her organization was facing a shortfall of $80 million from its regular budget, in part because of the rising cost of fuel which had hit UNRWA hard. She appealed to OPEC countries to help cover $4 million of fuel costs for UNRWA operations for 12 months in the occupied Palestinian territory, pointing out that the agency helps local municipalities in Gaza with fuel supplies for garbage disposal to prevent epidemics from breaking out.