Palestinian poverty rate triples from 20-60 percent since 2000

Monday, June 14, 2004

LONDON The United Nations has reported a sharp increase in the number of Palestinians who receive refugee aid.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, reported that the number of Palestinian who receive food from the agency has increased by eight-fold over the last four years. UNRWA commissioner-general Peter Hansen said the agency supplies food to 1.1 million Palestinians. In 2000, 130,000 Palestinians received such aid.

Hansen told a two-day conference on Palestinian refugees in Geneva last week that Palestinians were becoming impoverished. He said the proportion of Palestinians living below the poverty line had tripled from 20 percent to 60 percent over the last four years.

The UN, in its first gathering since 1950, appealed for aid to Palestinian refugees, particularly in the Gaza Strip, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials warned the envoys of 90 countries that UNRWA's network of schools and clinics was unraveling because of overcrowded conditions and lack of funds. The conference, not meant to be donor's parley, garnered $10.3 million in pledges.

UNRWA released a report that portrayed a growing refugee population with declining income. The UN report said the refugee population was increasing at a rate of 2.3 percent annually and exceeded the four million mark in June 2003.

More than 50 percent of the refugees throughout the Middle East were reported to be up to 18 years old while in the Gaza Strip more than 50 percent were up to age 15. The UN reported 5.25 million Palestinian refugees in the region.

The report said a major threat to Palestinian stability stemmed from what it termed "unoccupied youth," marked by high unemployment and frustrated expectations. The youth population was said to comprise a major threat to Palestinian stability.

Officials said the steady decline in the economy of the Palestinian Authority has led to increased aid requests from Palestinians. They also cited Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement amid the intensification of the Israeli-Palestinian war.

Ten UN agencies have called on Israeli authorities to ease restrictions on movement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to enable 60,000 Palestinian students to take their final high school exams, which began on June 7.

The organizations included UNRWA and the UN Childrens Fund and the UN Development Program. Israel was not invited to the conference.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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