June 26, 2018

New warning that schools for 525,000 Palestinians may stay shut after summer break

UNRWA provides education for 525,000 Palestinian children in more than 700 schools

Photo credit: UNRWA

Despite pledges of additional funding, the crisis-hit UNRWA agency said it's still not enough to ensure its 711 schools will reopen.

A fresh warning has been given that the entire school system for more than half a million Palestinian children might not have enough money to reopen after the summer break.

It came despite international donors announcing additional funding to help the crisis-hit agency United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

The agency's chief, Pierre Krähenbühl, thanked donor countries for their support. But he said that, because of the shortfall in funding that still exists, “we do not have income to ensure the schools will open on time in August”. 

The UNRWA Commissioner-General added: “It is critical that we build on the success of the first half of the year and secure the needed funding to ensure the next school year opens on time and our key programmes are preserved,”

The UN agency provides education for 525,000 children at 711 schools in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. More than half of UNRWA's budget is spent on education.

The US, which for years has been UNRWA’s largest donor, announced in January it would be slashing its contribution to the organisation’s 2018 budget

Photo credit: Ridvan Yumlu-Schiessl

Its future was put in jeopardy earlier this year when the United States slashed its funding by $250 million and other expected financing fell through. UNRWA began holding pledging conferences and managed to raise about half of its target of $446 million for the year - as well as introducing severe cost-cutting measures.

The latest conference, held at the UN in New York yesterday, saw some countries announce new support, including Belgium and Mexico. 

Miroslav Lajcak, President of the UN General Assembly, reiterated the warning about schools staying shut after the summer break.

"Schools may not be able to open on time in August," he told the conference. "Other services could start to be affected as early as next month. And humanitarian activities in the West Bank and Gaza are at risk."

Lajcak said 54% of UNRWA's budget was spent on education and it could not continue to provide vital services on a “shoestring”. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: "We must do everything possible to ensure that food continues to arrive, that schools remain open and that people do not lose hope."

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