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U.K. makes $166 million UNRWA donation
Duncan fries falafel in Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)
Duncan fries falafel in Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)
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BEIRUT: The United Kingdom donated $166 million Monday to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, officials announced at UNRWA headquarters near Beirut.

U.K. Minister of International Development Alan Duncan announced the donation after touring the Burj al-Barajneh Palestinian camp in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

“Some of the conditions are really pretty grim and must be improved,” Duncan said. “We regard this as a very important part of the development assistance we are giving to the region.”

The donation will be spread over three years and accounts for 80 percent of UNRWA’s operating budget for 2012. The money will finance basic services for Palestinians such as education and medical care. Around 36,000 children are expected to be aided by the funds.

Several countries have recently made significant donations to UNRWA, but none on as large a scale as Monday’s U.K. donation.

“This will give UNRWA predictability and continuity, something UNRWA desperately needs,” Duncan said.

Duncan called for other nations to also consider making donations despite difficult economic times.

“I certainly, even though economic times are difficult, urge all other countries look at what they do to support UNRWA and particularly in the region and close to it and make sure their contributions are sizeable and predictable,” he said.

UNRWA is in the middle of several big projects including the reconstruction of the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp and a broad initiative to improve quality of life in aging and decrepit camps. Despite the U.K. donation, UNRWA is still $75 million short of this year’s budget.

Nahr al-Bared was destroyed in 2007 after the Lebanese Army waged a monthslong battle to root out an Islamic radical group in the camp. Efforts to improve the overall infrastructure have been hindered by funding and very tight camp security, camp officials say.

UNRWA General Commissioner Filippo Grandi hopes the donation will encourage others to continue their giving despite the impression that aid from the international community is drying up.

“There is always a lot of talk about the international community abandoning UNRWA, not supporting it sufficiently, and I think that this important contribution indicates there is support for UNRWA’s works,” Grandi said.

“This is even more appreciated when we know the difficulties that are having an impact on the U.K.,” he said.

Grandi said the aid will be spread out to a number of projects, and several of the funding provisions are tied to the success of reform efforts at UNRWA.

He saw this funding plan as effective for the organization, as it allows the body to plan well in advance and work toward benchmarks as incentives.

“I hope that this contribution will constitute a model for other donors to follow,” Grandi said.

There are 12 Palestinian camps administered by UNRWA in Lebanon and around 455,000 registered Palestinians in the country. Security in the camps has proved to be a constant sticking point for the country’s political situation.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 12, 2012, on page 4.
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