UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his counterpart at the Arab League, Nabil El Araby, are co-chairing a ministerial meeting Thursday in New York on the funding challenges that the UN Relief and Works Agency is facing.
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UNRWA, which helps nearly 5 million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria in addition to the West Bank and Gaza, is facing a $54 million shortfall of its roughly $600 million annual operational budget.
"Every single year of the last few years has been difficult," UNRWA's Commissioner General Filippo Grandi told The Associated Press in an interview on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
"Since 2008 and the economic downturn, aid budgets in many countries have shrunk. What we are trying to do this time is we are going especially to one group of donors: the Arab donors," Grandi said.
Arab countries have made pledges to fund 7.8% of the UN agency's operational budget, which is made up entirely of voluntary contributions, and not UN funding. So far, they have only contributed about a fourth of what they promised, and Grandi said the meeting's main goal is to push those donors to come up with the rest of the money.
The war in Syria, where over half a million Palestinian refugees live, has been complicating matters.
"Syria has drained a lot of humanitarian resources," Grandi said. "When you have two million refugees, a catastrophic situation inside, neighboring countries burdened by this huge crisis, of course this will drain a lot of resources and the Palestinian crisis will seem less urgent because it's been there for so long."
On the ground, the Syrian conflict has increased the plight of Palestinian refugees who live in 12 camps in Syria. "Seven are not accessible to us because of fighting," Grandi said. "More than half of 530,000 refugees in Syria, are displaced inside Syria and I would say 70,000 have left the country. These people are already refugees from before the (Syrian crisis) and they become refugees again."
But the agency is not limiting its outreach to Arab nations and Western states, reflecting a change in the field of global humanitarian aid.
Lebanon today, tommorow
Meanwhile, The United Nations gave a grim warning Wednesday that Lebanon faces an explosion of social tensions unless the international community helps to handle hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.
Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman told foreign ministers from the world's leading nations that his country faces an "existential crisis" because of the influx fleeing the war between President Bashar Assad and opposition rebels.
He said major financing was needed to pay for the refugees, reinforce public services because of the burden and bolster the army.
The Syria conflict will cost Lebanon $7.5 billion from 2012 to 2014, according to an estimate given by World Bank president Jim Yong Kim to the meeting held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
The UN says there are already 760,000 Syrians registered in Lebanon and there will be one million by the end of the year. Lebanon's government estimates there are already 1.2 million with many not bothering to register.
It is says there will soon be a strain on electricity supplies and is having to start school lessons by shifts to cope with an extra 90,000 Syrian children. Kim said there was already "fierce" competition for jobs between Lebanese and Syrians.
He said that by the end of 2014 there could be 200,000-300,000 more Lebanese unemployed which would double the unemployment rate to more than 20%.
"Without question social tensions could increase as competition for jobs and services intensifies," he added.
"If we do not act decisively, now and fast, the Lebanon that we know today will not resemble the Lebanon that we will see tomorrow," Kim warned.
Antonio Guterres, UN high commissioner for refugees said: "I do not recall any country having suffered a more dramatic impact in its economy and in its society by an inflow of refugees than Lebanon today."
Guterres and other officials and ministers praised the "the extreme generosity" of Lebanon in keeping its borders open to refugees during the 30-month-old war.
Lebanon "has been to a large extent left alone by the international community and this needs to change," he added.
Guterres said other countries had to take in Syrian refugees to ease the burden. Germany has already agreed to take 5,000 Syrians.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said "we are deeply concerned by the rising number of terrorist attacks and security incidents inside Lebanon and Hezbollah 's brazen intervention into the Syrian conflict."
The Shiite militia that is the dominant political force in Lebanon has sent fighters to help Assad in the neighboring country.
US President Barack Obama announced $74 million dollars of extra humanitarian assistance for Lebanon in a meeting with Suleiman on Tuesday. The US administration is negotiating with Congress to find another $30 million.
Kerry said international friendship with Lebanon had to "be expressed not in words alone. We have to show our commitment with actions that support a sovereign, secure and prosperous Lebanon."
Kerry added that Lebanese parties had to focus on establishing a government.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and Britain's Foreign Secretary Williams also expressed strong support for the government.
Lavrov said Russia had provided 150,000 tons of humanitarian assistance this year. Fabius said France would consider taking refugees.
Suleiman told the meeting "this aggravating burden now represents a true existential crisis in view of the security and social and economic repercussions."
The UN estimates there will be three million by the end of the year.
The World Bank and IMF are to appeal for funds for Lebanon at their autumn meetings in October.
"After New York, I am going to Brazil. Brazil is becoming an important donor. At this meeting on Thursday we have invited other donors such as Turkey," he explained adding that roughly 80 per cent of the aid agency's funding comes from the United States, the European Union, Japan and Australia.
AFP and the Associated Press contributed to this report
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