The United Nations chief is warning that a US-induced half-billion-dollar funding shortfall for the UN relief agency for Palestinians risks cutting critical services that could "push the suffering in disastrous and unpredictable directions."
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed an emergency funding conference in Rome on Thursday after the Trump administration slashed tens of millions to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN's oldest and largest aid agency in the Middle East.
Guterres said investment in UN programs addresses the despair and other factors "that lead to radicalization."
He also posted on his Twitter account an appeal for supporting UNRWA.
"Supporting UNRWA is not only a matter of human solidarity with Palestine refugees, it is an investment in peace. #DignityIsPriceless," he wrote.
The Trump administration announced in January it was slashing $65 million this year. But the UN. said the actual cut was to the tune of $300 million because the US had led the agency to believe it would provide $365 million in 2018.
At the time, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert denied the withholding of the $65 million was to punish Palestinians, who have been sharply critical of Trump's announcement last month that he would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
After Trump announced that he would be withholding the funds, a number of countries scrambled to fill the shortfall. The head of the UNRWA said that Russia, Kuwait and nine European countries had agreed to speed up their contributions.
The US had been UNWRA's largest donor, supplying nearly 30 percent of its budget. In announcing the cuts in January, the US State Department said it wanted reforms at the agency, which Israel has strongly criticized.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the agency had already undertaken reform measures to streamline and rationalize its activities, but said "there is a limit to its ability to do so" given the enormous sustained needs faced by 5 million people.
"It is vital and it is necessary to address these very basic services, but also to provide dignity for multitudes of Palestinians and to (protect) many of them from the potential threats of radicalization and terrorism," he told reporters.
The agency head, Pierre Kraehenbuel, said expectations in the region were high that donors would step up and come to the agency's rescue.
"The message to the Palestinian refugees has to be that they are not forgotten. All eyes in the refugee camps throughout the Middle East are on this conference," he said.
On Thursday, a report by the World Bank said that the decline in the Gaza Strip has become too steep to be tackled by international aid and also requires that the Israeli- and Egyptian-blockaded Palestinian enclave be allowed freer trade.
"The (Gaza) economy cannot survive without being connected to the outside world," it said in a 46-page report issued as world powers convened in Rome to discuss the future of a UN relief agency for Palestinians threatened by US funding cuts.
"Any effort at economic recovery and development must address the impacts of the current closure regime."