Cablegate: Unrwa Asks for More Food Assistance

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


2. Summary: At a February 10 meeting, UNRWA identified
food assistance as its top emergency program priority for
the West Bank and Gaza. In 2003, 61.8 percent of refugee
families in the West Bank and 64 percent in Gaza received
emergency food aid from UNRWA. However, declining donor
response to the emergency appeals has forced UNRWA to cut
the nutritional value of its food basket from 1600 to 1200
calories and reduce the number of food recipients by 1.7
percent in the West Bank and 2.3 percent in Gaza in 2003.
UNRWA also complained that it is unable to meet growing food
aid needs among its Special Hardship cases (SHC). None of
the participating donors announced new food aid
contributions at this meeting. End summary.

3. In an effort to generate more donor support for its food
aid programs, UNRWA held a half-day technical meeting on
February 10 to brief donors on its emergency and regular
food aid programs. As part of its overall outreach to new
and minor donors, UNRWA also invited Poland, Malaysia,
Turkey and Brazil to attend the meeting.

4. UNRWA focused on its emergency food aid needs in the
West Bank and Gaza. Due to closure and curfew-induced
restrictions on refugee access to jobs and food, UNRWA
identified food assistance, rather than temporary job
creation, as its top emergency program priority. In 2002,
63.5 percent of refugee families in the West Bank and 66.3
percent in Gaza received emergency food aid provided under
UNRWA's emergency appeal. However, due to poor donor
response to the emergency appeals (funds earmarked for food
aid decreased from USD 12.9 million in the first appeal to
USD 1.4 million in the sixth appeal), UNRWA reduced the
nutritional value of its emergency food basket from 1600
calories to 1200 and reduced the number of food recipients
by 1.7 percent in the West Bank and 2.3 percent in Gaza.

5. While UNRWA refugees have been surveyed as part of
nutrition studies conducted by CARE, MARAM and Johns Hopkins
University, UNRWA has not yet conducted its own
comprehensive survey of nutritional needs in the West Bank
and Gaza or the impact of decreasing donor response to
emergency food programs. UNRWA's most recent study, a rapid
assessment conducted in October 2002, shows a worrying
increase in anemia among pregnant women and infants. Anemia
rates among pregnant women grew from 44.3 to 48.5 percent in
Gaza and from 32.6 to 33.5 percent in the West Bank between
2000 and 2002, while anemia among infants increased from
58.8 to 72.8 percent in Gaza and from 33.7 to 41.4 percent
in the West Bank during the same period.

6. Due to continuing access problems in the West Bank and
Gaza, UNRWA has cooperated with WFP, ICRC and local
Palestinian NGOs to ensure emergency food aid is available
to the most needy families. Under these cooperative
arrangements, 5 percent of UNRWA's emergency food aid
beneficiaries are non-refugees who reside in areas where no
other relief agencies can provide assistance. UNRWA reports
that the cooperative arrangements work only one way; UNRWA
is the sole food aid provider to the refugees due largely to
its comprehensive coverage of the community.

7. UNRWA's Special Hardship Case (SHC) food assistance
program (part of the General Fund operations) also has
suffered from decreased funding levels. UNRWA reported that
earmarked food assistance contributions decreased from USD
23 million in 1998 to USD 19.3 million in 2003, forcing the
agency to dip into unearmarked funds to avoid cutting the
nutritional value of SHC food aid. UNRWA also reported that
it needs greater support from donors to maintain an annual
increase of 2.5 percent in the number of beneficiaries
eligible for special hardship assistance. In order to make
scarce food aid contributions go further, UNRWA removed
animal protein from the SHC food basket two years ago.
UNRWA's regular food aid budget is facing a 17 percent
shortage for 2004.

6. UNRWA told donors that delays in payment of pledges and
in-kind contributions cause ruptures in the food pipeline
and increase refugee anxieties and complaints about the
reliability of food assistance. UNRWA urged donors to pay
pledges promptly and, to the greatest extent possible,
contribute unearmarked funds to UNRWA as they give the
agency the most flexibility to respond to refugees' needs.
None of the participating donors announced any new food
contributions to UNRWA, although the EU, Japan and Belgium
expressed interest in continuing their General Fund food
assistance, and ECHO expressed interest in continuing its
emergency food assistance.


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