Palestinians protest in front of the UNRWA offices in Sidon, Monday, April 13, 2015. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)
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Matthias Schmale, Lebanon's new country director of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, has a tough few months ahead of him. After a few weeks in office, the agency's director of finance gave Schmale a sobering reality check: as things stand, if the agency does not attract new funding beyond what is already committed by donors it will run out of cash as early as October. That UNRWA is chronically underfunded is not new – the agency has been coping with a startling $100 million deficit for a while – but this year marks the first time these fiscal challenges will be felt by the broader Palestinian refugee community as country operations will likely scale back, affecting eminent core programs such as education.Schmale has stressed that core education and health programs will not be cut.UNRWA announced this month it would suspend its cash-for-rent assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria. In Beirut's Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila, rumors of how the funding crisis will impact the community, which for over 65 years has come to rely on UNRWA for basic social services such as health and education as well as assistance, have instilled a sense of foreboding.As dire as UNRWA's financial crisis is, its decision to go public about it was also, as Schmale acknowledged, meant to elicit a reaction from the international community.
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