Budget troubles necessitated an emergency meeting of the UN Relief and Works Agency to discuss the imminent educational crisis in the Middle East, which, if not prevented, could mean the delay of the new school year start for about 700 schools across the region.
UNRWA is facing a $101 million deficit, and if the UNRWA’s donors and host governments don’t meet their goals, half a million refugee students won’t start school on time this fall.
Currently, 2015 UNRWA funding goes to primary health care, relief and sanitation, emergency programs and child immunization. The cash shortage means that a stable education funding in Middle East for the 2015-2016 school year is presently impossible.
“Education lies at the very heart of the identity and dignity of Palestine refugees and of what UNRWA stands for,” Pierre Krähenbühl, UNRWA’s Commissioner General, said.
Krähenbühl added, “I am alarmed that our current funding crisis may force us to consider a delay in the start of the school year. Such a decision would generate much anxiety and despair for hundreds of thousands of boys and girls, deeply dedicated to their studies.”
The UNRWA describes its funding shortfall as the agency’s “most severe financial crisis ever.”
A special report sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and all 193 UN member states delineates the implications of the $101 million deficit and proposes solutions for reducing costs and attracting more funding by donors, partners and UN members.
The report also outlines how UNRWA can develop and implement a robust funding strategy to avoid similar crises in the future. UNRWA calls on donors and UN member states to:
“[A]ctively step forward with critical funding to allow the school year to begin without interruption and to preserve the historic investment in human development of Palestine refugees, recognized as one the most successful processes of its kind in the Middle-East.”
“Ensuring the continued provision of education is a matter of dignity, rights and regional stability,” it is stated in the press release.
Krähenbühl also underlined that students are not the only ones affected by the delay of the start of the new academic year. He said that a possible delay could negatively affect the hosting governments as well, and that taking education away from the region would unsettle and destabilize it.
Ban Ki-moon discussed UNRWA’s funding crisis with many world leaders and called on donors “to urgently ensure that the $100 million required be contributed to UNRWA at the earliest possible date so that the children of Palestine can begin their 2015-2016 school year without delay.”
UNRWA is almost exclusively funded through voluntary contributions. The continuous conflict in the Middle East has resulted in a disproportionate funding demand for refugees and war-struck citizens.