The UN Relief and Works Agency launched a fundraising appeal this week, asking for $181 million for humanitarian relief in Gaza ahead of Ramadan, which begins in about four days. The United Arab Emirates and the Kuwait Red Crescent Society have already pledged $500,000. UNRWA said the money was needed to help in "guaranteeing food supplies, cash and job opportunities to thousands of refugees." According to UNRWA, 70 percent of the one million refugees in Gaza live in poverty and are "characterized by chronic unemployment, infrequent access to power and water, health hazards stemming from [an] inadequate sewage system, and substandard housing, with thousands living in tents or the rubble of their former homes, dispossessed of all earthly belongings." An appeal was started following Operation Cast Lead earlier this year, in hopes of raising $346m. for Gaza. UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told The Jerusalem Post that so far, $191m. of this had been pledged. Still, because of the blockade on the Strip, "of the billions pledged for reconstruction, not one penny has reached Gaza," UNRWA said in a statement. "We sincerely hope that international pressure is built and that the situation in Gaza has become so unpalatable and unpleasant that the Israeli government will be forced to allow in more aid," Gunness told the Post. UNRWA said it had been struggling to achieve any significant progress due to restrictions put on building materials going into Gaza. Hamas has stolen construction materials allowed into Gaza in the past, and Israel is concerned it will use it to rebuild its terrorist infrastructure. UNRWA hopes to use the donations to help pay for Gazans' rent and to make small-scale repairs to houses damaged during Operation Cast Lead. Criticism has been aimed at UNRWA by The Israel Initiative for its stance on refugees. Yoav Sorek, director of the Initiative - an NGO set up by former tourism minister Benny Elon - said, "The problem is not the siege of Gaza; rather, it is UNRWA that does nothing to rehabilitate the refugees... UNRWA has maintained millions of refugees in their poor status for more than 60 years." UNRWA was set up in 1950 to deal with Palestinian refugees. At the time, 750,000 were eligible for help. Now 4.6 million Palestinians qualify for UNRWA assistance.