Hamas win not affecting UNRWA activity [pg. 6]

While non-governmental organizations and aide agencies tied to sovereign governments are trying to navigate their proper mode of operation in the era of a Hamas-led government, the largest agency which provides humanitarian relief to Palestinians is continuing to operate normally. According to officials from The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, better known as UNRWA, neither the funding nor the operational tactics for the agency is expected to change as a result of Hamas's victory. "After the election result there was this question raised among the major donors of how to channel the aide to the Palestinian economy and UNRWA is seen as a stable provider," said Johan Eriksson. "But now when I speak to the external relations people here they say it's not going to change our budget up or down." UNRWA was created in 1949, specifically to service the needs of Palestinian refugees, and is by far the largest organization providing humanitarian relief to them. Its total budget in 2005 was $488 million with $57.5 million being spent in the West Bank and $106.5 million in the Gaza Strip. As of last year, the organization operated 19 refugee camps in the West Bank and eight in Gaza. In 2005, UNRWA ran 93 schools in the West Bank and 180 in Gaza which enroll 60,004 and 194,171 students respectively. The same year, the agency operated 36 health care facilities in the West Bank and 18 in Gaza which saw 1,403,726 and 2,967,097 patients respectively. UNRWA also manages numerous social programs and microfinance and micro enterprise projects in the Palestinian territories. The top donors to UNRWA in 2005 were the European Commission, $123 million; the United States, $108 million; Sweden, $39 million; Norway, $31 million; and Japan $30 million. Funding for UNRWA is continuous throughout the year, making the 2006 budget impossible to calculate at the moment. No donors, including the United States, have indicated they will cease funding UNRWA, the spokesman said. The main reason, UNRWA officials said, that their funding and operations are not being effected by the Hamas victory is their very limited contact with the PA. Though the refugee camps themselves are under administration municipal authorities, UNRWA provides all of its services directly to registered refugees without consulting local officials, Eriksson said. "On an operational level, there is no coordination with PA at all," he said. Moreover, unlike large, international NGOs and governmental foreign aide agencies, UNRWA does not partner with local NGOs to carry out its projects. All UNRWA health clinics and schools are operated by the agency itself, as are its food distribution programs. Similar programs which are funded by foreign governments but carried out by local NGOs are coming under increasing scrutiny as donors examine ways to continue the humanitarian effort in the Palestinian territories without inadvertently funding Hamas. While the US is currently reviewing all of its funding for humanitarian assistance and development projects in the territories, the European Union are continuing their aide funding and operations at least until the Hamas-led government takes control.