In 2018, the Trump administration cut all funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Over five million people in the region rely on the organization for social services, but now their work has become even more crucial in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Mondoweiss’s Yumna Patel produced this video in September 2018 outlining the potentially devestating impacts of the cuts:
Last week, UNRWA Executive Director Mara Kronenfeld submitted testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, asking Congress to reverse the Trump administration’s 2018 decision. “We now find the Agency’s 144 health centers on the front lines of combating a global pandemic,” reads Kronenfield’s testimony, “Already, the Agency has called on donor states for an additional $14 million to address the crisis. UNRWA is seeking the additional funding to ensure that the appropriate preparedness and response measures are in place at UNRWA installations, in particular health and education facilities.”
Kronenfeld also quoted UNRWA’s acting- Commissioner General Christian Saunders on the organization’s dire economic situation. The group started the year with debts of $55 million and hasn’t come close to reaching its required funding. “If we do not receive additional pledges or those who have pledged do not make good on existing pledges, then we will run out of money at the end of next month,” said Saunders, “At this point, I do not see how the needs of the Palestine refugees can be met this year if support remains stagnant at 2019 levels, and our core programs implemented in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank including East Jerusalem will grind to a halt.”
Last Saturday, Palestinian health officials announced that two people in Gaza have tested positive for COVID-19. This news has naturally increased anxiety in the region, as the Israeli blockade already prohibits many essential resources from reaching the area. Medhat Abbas, the general director of primary care in Gaza, told The Guardian that they currently have 40 intensive care unit beds and would only have 100 even under emergency conditions. “We can deal with existing cases and limited numbers, but if the pandemic increases, as happened in some countries, we will need international intervention,” he said.
“Have been telling UNRWA Gaza staff for weeks we need to act as if COVID-19 is here,” tweeted UNRWA Gaza Director Matthias Schmale, “After [yesterday’s] announcement of 2 exogenous cases, line is now to act as if there is a full outbreak & strict curfew. Better to be prepared than sorry! Will try to maintain lifesaving services.”