Despite their rhetorical pledges of support for the Palestinians, the Arab states are providing an increasingly smaller amount of aid to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), prompting the UN agency to step up efforts to solicit more funds from Arab regimes throughout the region.
At a press conference held Wednesday in Manama, the Bahraini capital, UNRWA representative Peter Ford issued a plea to Arab countries to increase their donations on behalf of Palestinian refugees, asserting that UNRWA is facing "a financial crisis."
Over the past two decades, Ford noted, Arab states have provided a steadily decreasing percentage of UNRWA's funding. In the 1980s, he said, their donations amounted to 8% of the group's annual budget, whereas now, "Arab donors currently contribute less than three percent of UNRWA's overall spending."
"The objective," he said, "is to return to that level of support at a time when the innocent refugees, as always the victims of political problems, are suffering more than ever."
Ford added that while funds from major donor countries have been "regular and steady," the agency is now looking to tap into other sources, in particular the Arab states, in light of growing demand for UNRWA's services among Palestinian refugees.
"The situation for the refugees is ominously deteriorating because of Israeli attitudes and Palestinian in-fighting," he said. "There is an increasing need for funds from several sources, mainly Arab states."
Ford was in Bahrain to meet with government officials in an effort to drum up additional pledges of support. He plans to visit several Gulf Arab states in the near future as well.
According to UNRWA's Web site, the largest pledge received from an Arab country in 2006 was $1.5 million from Kuwait, with Saudi Arabia promising just $1.2 million. By contrast, Sweden pledged more than $41 million, the UK $27 million, and Denmark over $12 million.
Other Arab states were even less generous, with oil-rich Bahrain offering $30,000 and Lebanon a mere $10,000.
The US was the largest supporter of UNRWA's activities, with more than $137 million of the group's budgeted expenditures of $462 million coming from Washington.
As of October 31, the latest date for which figures are available, UNRWA was expecting a funding shortfall in 2006 of $117 million, with total pledges amounting to $345 million.
Nearly all of UNRWA's operations are financed by voluntary contributions from governments and the European Union. In total, Western countries provide more than 95% of the agency's finances.