UN agency for Palestinian refugees raises just a third of $300m needed to help millions

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees also needs $75 million to keep the food pipeline in Gaza operating. (AFP)
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Updated 03 June 2023

UN agency for Palestinian refugees raises just a third of $300m needed to help millions

  • UNRWA chief grateful for the new pledges but they are below the funds needed to keep over 700 schools and 140 clinics open from September through December

UNITED NATIONS: Despite a dire warning from the UN chief that the UN agency for Palestinian refugees “is on the verge of financial collapse,” donors at a pledging conference on Friday provided just $107 million in new funds — significantly less than the $300 million it needs to keep helping millions of people.
Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the agency known as UNRWA, said he was grateful for the new pledges but they are below the funds needed to keep over 700 schools and 140 clinics open from September through December.
“We will continue to work tirelessly with our partners, including host countries — the refugees’ top supporters — to raise the funds needed,” he said in a statement.
At the beginning of the year, UNRWA appealed for $1.6 billion for its programs, operations and emergency response across Syria, Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Jordan. That includes nearly $850 million for its core budget, which includes running schools and health clinics.
According to UNRWA, donors on Friday announced $812.3 million in pledges, but just $107.2 million were new contributions. The countries pledging new funds were not announced.
Lazzarini told a press conference Thursday that UNRWA needs $150 million to keep all services running until the end of the year, and an additional $50 million to start 2024 without liabilities. In addition, he said, the agency needs $75 million to keep the food pipeline in Gaza operating and about $30 million for its cash distribution program in Syria and Lebanon.
UNRWA was founded in the wake of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 to provide hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes with education, health care, social services and in some cases jobs. Today, their numbers — with descendants — have grown to some 5.9 million people, most in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as well as neighboring countries in the Middle East.
UNRWA has faced a financial crisis for 10 years, but Lazzarini said the current crisis is “massive,” calling it “our main existential threat.”
“It is deepening, and our ability to muddle through is slowly but surely coming to an end,” he said. “The situation is even more critical now that some of our committed donors have indicated that the will substantially decrease their contribution to the agency.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a speech read by his chief of staff at the start of the pledging conference that “when UNRWA’s future hangs in the balance so do the lives of millions of Palestine refugees relying on essential services.”
Those services include education for over half a million girls and boys, health care for around 2 million people, job opportunities for young people in Gaza and elsewhere, psycho-social support for hundreds of thousands of children, and a social safety net for nearly half a million of the poorest Palestinians, he said. More than 1.2 million Palestinians also receive humanitarian assistance.

SRMG Think’s MENA Forum launches on UNGA sidelines

Updated 7 sec ago

SRMG Think’s MENA Forum launches on UNGA sidelines

  • Event, hosted in partnership with Middle East Institute, themed ‘Reinforcing Global Resilience Through Sustainability’
  • Speakers include Jordanian, Egyptian, Emirati ministers and US envoy for Yemen

NEW YORK: SRMG Think Research and Advisory launches its second annual MENA Forum on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Friday, in partnership with the Middle East Institute.

The one-day event will host a raft of leading figures and voices on the Middle East and North Africa, addressing the forum’s theme “MENA: Reinforcing Global Resilience Through Sustainability,” including contributions from diplomats, state policymakers and private-sector players.

Among those set to contribute will be Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Ayman Al-Safadi, Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation Rania Al-Mashat, the UAE’s Climate Change and Environment Minister Mariam Almheiri, and US Special Envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking.

SMRG Think said the forum will address MENA’s evolving status as a “dynamic hub driving new trends and contributing to the global agenda,” as well as its growing leadership role on the world stage.

The forum will also deliver “unparalleled insights” into the region’s position on “energy transition, global peace and stability efforts, and economic sustainability.”

The event follows the recently published MENA Forum report “The case for cooperation beyond de-escalation,” which addresses key dynamics concerning regional cooperation amid political and economic tensions, focusing on geopolitics and security, economics and energy.

Neil Quilliam, director of energy at SRMG Think, said: “As (MENA) continues to achieve its development aspirations and evolves into an engine for global growth, it has become increasingly important for governments, businesses and decision-makers to understand the region.

“However, there is currently a lack of actionable insights that these entities and individuals can rely on. In light of this, a MENA-focused UNGA side event, featuring invaluable perspectives from the region, is more crucial than ever. 

“The MENA Forum fosters open and frank discussions on the economic, political, and environmental challenges and opportunities present in MENA through the lens of regional leaders and the brightest thinkers.” 

MEI President and CEO Paul Salem said: “As the world confronts challenges around energy transition, climate change, economic diversification, trade, and human security, the MENA region remains a focal point where all of these complex dynamics converge.

“It is critical to bring leaders and policy practitioners from the region to engage with the international community in order to build on common interests and opportunities for a better global future.”

L’Oréal-UNESCO celebrates decade recognizing pioneering Arab female scientists

Updated 7 min 31 sec ago

L’Oréal-UNESCO celebrates decade recognizing pioneering Arab female scientists

  • Saudi researcher ‘grateful to work in a country and a region that celebrates and promotes women in sciences’
  • Program essential to addressing the systemic gender bias by raising the profile of female scientists

DUBAI: While only 33 percent of global researchers are women, in the Gulf Cooperation Council region, countries like the UAE boast a notable 61 percent of female university STEM students.

This trend extends to Saudi Arabia, where 60 percent of science graduates are women.

On its 10-year anniversary, the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program, in partnership with Khalifa University of Science and Technology, celebrates female Arab scientists changing the landscape of scientific research in the region.

“The extraordinary accomplishments and dedication of women scientists in the region have paved the way for progress in various fields, influencing everything from healthcare and technology to environment sustainability and space exploration,” said Sarah Al-Amiri, UAE minister of state for public education and advanced technology and chair of the UAE Space Agency.

This year’s award ceremony marks a decade of supporting the research efforts of 51 female Arab scientists from the GCC with endowments totalling 3.4 million dirhams ($924,695).

Investing in and increasing the visibility of women scientists contributes to advancing research and addressing the region’s pressing challenges.

“My research is highly translational, driven by real-world problems affecting people’s health and wellness both locally and globally … enabling greater accessibility to high-quality minimally invasive healthcare tools for cancer diagnosis and precision medicine,” said Dr. Dana Alsulaiman, Saudi post-doctorate researcher and L’Oréal-UNESCO award winner.

According to Alsulaiman, miniaturized and cost-effective diagnostic tools developed at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology could transform the field of healthcare, and clinical decision making like early diagnosis, and effective therapy selection.  

In August 2023, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a new strategy for KAUST, focusing on turning research into economically beneficial innovations, including environmental sustainability research.

For Lila Ali Aldakheel, a Saudi doctoral student and L’Oréal-UNESCO award winner, whose research focuses on identifying sustainable solutions for plastic pollution, waste management and reduction of the environmental impact, “there is a noticeable deficiency in research concerning the examination of micro-plastic pollution in Middle Eastern oceans and mangrove soil, as well as its repercussions on the environment and human well-being.”

The L’Oréal-UNESCO Young Talents Program’s objective is to build a diverse and inclusive ecosystem enabling and celebrating research and scientific advancement. This year’s award ceremony recognized the achievements of women in science, from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait.


The 2023 Middle East Regional Young Talents

PhD students:

Sara Ishaq Alkhoori (UAE) — Research on examining eco-friendly biofuel production to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change, yielding universal benefits.

Lila Ali Aldakheel (Saudi Arabia) — Research on identifying groups of microorganisms that can break down plastic to manage waste and help the environment.

Nadin Nagy Mahmoud Younes (Qatar) — Research on the development of low-cost, easy-to-use tests for the early and rapid detection of Norovirus and Hepatitis E.


Post-Phd Researchers:

Dr. Noha Mousaad Elemam (UAE) — Research on developing early breast cancer biomarkers with the goal of understanding cancer progression and achieving better patients’ survival rates.

Dr. Dana Alsulaiman (Saudi Arabia) — Research on addressing challenges in cancer diagnosis through advanced biosensing platforms to enhance early disease detection and better prognosis globally.

Fatma H. Al-Awadhi (Kuwait) — Research on exploring the marine biodiversity in the gulf region for untapped therapeutic potential.


The program holds a unique position in the GCC. “While the program’s foundation remains the same globally, it is the distinct advancements of the GCC region concerning women in STEM that sets it apart,” declared Laurent Duffier, managing director of L’Oréal Middle East.

“The outstanding research quality and pioneering contributions of these women amplify the GCC’s leading stance. Instead of simply bridging the gender gap, the region, with the aid of our program, is setting a global benchmark for empowering women in science,” he added.

The GCC is home to what the award winners collectively highlight as key for success: access to adequate support, recognition, and the availability of opportunities to take their research beyond the lab stage.

“I’m grateful to work in a country and a region that celebrates and promotes women in sciences, particularly with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 emphasizing the importance of STEM in driving innovative solutions to global problems like cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases,” Alsulaiman told Arab News en franҫais.

The program is essential to addressing systemic gender bias by raising the profile of women scientists and supporting the growth of their careers, by providing access to resources, network, and mentorship.

“Equal representation matters because it brings diversity of perspectives, fairness and equity to the field, all of which are necessary to create a robust scientific community that can further innovation to counter societal challenges,” declared Dr. Tamara Elzein, the program’s jury president, and the secretary-general of the National Council for Scientific Research in Lebanon.

Associated to the program for the fifth consecutive year, the Khalifa University of Science and Technology underlines the essential role women play in driving scientific progress, technological innovation, and societal development.

“We need to continue creating such avenues of growth and support for (female scientists), which will lead to the long-term prosperity, security, and wellbeing in the region,” said Dr. Arif Sultan Al-Hammadi executive vice president of KU.

The program reflects the change in the regional landscape, the untapped potential of its human capital, and is an indicator of countries’ commitments to education.

“It is heartening to see the growing talent pool in the region, where women in many countries are graduating with STEM degrees at rates surpassing their US and European counterparts. We are looking to create a ripple effect, ensuring that the next decade and those beyond witness an even stronger wave of Middle Eastern women leading, innovating, and setting global standards in science,” added Duffier.

UN must reform to remain relevant, says Lebanon’s former ambassador

Updated 22 September 2023

UN must reform to remain relevant, says Lebanon’s former ambassador

CHICAGO: Lebanon’s former United Nations Ambassador Amal Mudallali said there is growing pressure to reform the 78-year-old international body in order to force its five founding members to share power with the rest of the world and keep the organization relevant.

The UN was founded in 1945 and consists of two major bodies: the UN Security Council, which includes five founding members with the power to veto any action or proposal; and the General Assembly, which has grown from 51 members to 193 today, and can adopt resolutions with moral authority, but no enforcement.

Mudallali acknowledged that although the UN has had some successes, failure to reform combined with growing inequity between nations of the “global north” and “global south” has resulted in a rise in competing but narrowly focused international coalitions such as BRICS, which was founded in 2010, but in recent years has become much more influential.

“If you look at the last 78 years, the world averted a big war, a third world war. And I think a lot of it has a lot to do with the fact that all these big powers and small powers and all these countries sit together there and work on trying to find solutions, and that is very important. It avoided a nuclear war. It created a big, huge system of development, helping poor countries around the world everywhere,” Mudallali said during the taping of “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” on Wednesday (Sept. 20, 2023).

“The problem is that the system that was created after the Second World War has not been reformed. It has been so static. There has been no change, no reform. Because the big powers who are now, and they gave themselves more power by creating the Security Council and they have veto power. They are the ones who control whether there is any change or not. The big powers are the ones who can do it.”

Mudallali added: “There is a new movement in the United Nations and the General Assembly to challenge the veto because the veto is preventing the Security Council from any decisions that are very important, and central to peace and security, especially when you need it when you have like the war in Ukraine. The Security Council has been gridlocked and there has been no resolution on Ukraine.”

Failure to reform has resulted in many nations contesting the old power structure that the UN of 1945 represented compared with the changing world balance today, with the rise of small groups of independent member-nation organizations, such as BRICS and the G20.

“But today, as we talk, it is really an interesting General Assembly because it comes on the heels of the BRICS meeting in South Africa. It comes after the G20 meeting, where the global south is rising. Their voice is rising. There is a new narrative now. They are telling the north, as people say, that things are not going to go on as business as usual,” Mudallali said.

“We need reform and this time our life depends on it. Because the international world order that we set up in 1945 and that served the world beautifully for the last 78 years and advanced economies, social issues and prevented wars, but now is not working. Because it has to be more equitable. It has to represent the diversity, that the world has changed. Because the volume of the world economy and the power is shifting. There is a shift in dynamics from the north to the south. There is a shift in the dynamics of power, not only the economic power but the political power. People are contesting the order.”

Over the years, the world has seen the rising influence of new limited member-nation coalitions, such as BRICS and the G20, seen as competing with the UN, which is supposed to represent the interests of all nations on all issues.

Groups such as BRICS, founded in 2010 by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, have grown significantly since the start of the Ukraine war. BRICS has raised some concerns about its intent, to “contest the international order” or “undermine the domination of certain countries” such as the US, Mudalalli said.

“If BRICS’ only objective is to change the order, it means like if it is international competition with the US only, this is not going to be good for anybody. But if they are doing it because they really want to reform the system and they want to have a better way, a diversified way of doing business with everybody, I think that would be good,” said Mudallali, now a respected international affairs analyst.

“And, then, maybe you can see, hopefully you can see a constructive role they can play in the international economy and this. But it really not good for the world if it is seen or it is perceived as only a competition between the US and China, and the world is being divided now into groups. If you weaken the UN, and if you weaken the state institutions that you put there to bring peace and security and economic prosperity and stuff like that and to get the world to work together, and you go and work outside it, this is very dangerous and this is no good for world peace.”

Many “global south” nations are wondering if the UN can be inclusive to address their needs, Mudallali said, noting that the UN plan to advance 17 Sustainable Development Goals is halfway through its 10-year timeframe and has achieved only 12 to 15 percent of its stated goals.

“As long as these countries, what you call them the global south, the rest of the world — not the Security Council and the big powers — see that they have no stake at the UN, and they see there is no movement to be inclusive and be representative of the world as it is today, you are going to see a very divided world order,” Mudallali said.

“You are going to have a splintering of different groups, people shopping for different alliances and things like that, because the central forum for bringing them together, to work together, is being weakened if it is not being reformed.”

The dramatic growth of debt among countries of the global south is of immediate concern, Mudallali said.

But it was discouraging that the leader of only one of the Security Council’s founding members, the US, addressed the UN General Assembly this week, with the leaders of Russia, France, the UK and China absent.

Mudallali made her comments during an appearance on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show,” which is broadcast every Wednesday in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 Radio and in Washington D.C. on WDMV AM 700 radio on the US Arab Radio Network. 

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.

China’s Xi meets Syria’s Assad, declares new ‘strategic partnership’

Updated 22 September 2023

China’s Xi meets Syria’s Assad, declares new ‘strategic partnership’

  • Bashar Assad will attend the opening ceremony of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou
  • Xi and Assad met in the eastern Chinese city

HANGZHOU: Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad on Friday, and said the two leaders would unveil a new “strategic partnership.”
Assad is on his first official trip to China in almost two decades as he seeks financial support to rebuild his devastated country, as well as rehabilitation for his regime from years of isolation over Syria’s civil war.
He will attend the opening ceremony of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou on Saturday.
Xi and Assad met in the eastern Chinese city on Friday afternoon, state media said.
“Today, we will jointly announce the establishment of the China-Syria strategic partnership, which will become an important milestone in the history of bilateral relations,” Xi told Assad, according to a readout from state broadcaster CCTV.
“Faced with an international situation full of instability and uncertainty, China is willing to continue to work together with Syria, firmly support each other, promote friendly cooperation, and jointly defend international fairness and justice,” he added.
Relations between the two countries “have withstood the test of international changes,” Xi said.
“And the friendship between the two countries has been strengthened over time,” he added.
The leaders were each flanked by nine aides at a large rectangular wooden table, a CCTV video clip showed, as two flags from each country were set in front of a Chinese painting in the meeting room.
China is one of only a handful of countries outside the Middle East that Assad has visited since the 2011 start of a civil war that has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions more, and battered Syria’s infrastructure and industry.
China’s foreign ministry has said his visit will take ties to a “new level.”
“China and Syria have a traditional and deep friendship,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular briefing.
“We believe that President Bashar Assad’s visit will further deepen mutual political trust and cooperation in various fields between the two countries,” she added.
Assad’s visit is his first to China since 2004.
Analysts expect Assad’s visit to China will focus, in part, on funds for reconstruction.
It also comes as China’s influence in the Middle East grows.
This year Beijing brokered a deal that saw longtime regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Damascus-backer Iran agree to restore ties and reopen their respective embassies.
The detente was followed by Syria’s return to the Arab fold at a summit in Saudi Arabia in May, ending more than a decade of regional isolation.

Iran's Quds force chief in Syria to oversee joint drill

Updated 22 September 2023

Iran's Quds force chief in Syria to oversee joint drill

  • Sudan plunged into conflict in April when long-simmering tensions escalated between the military, led by Gen. Burhan, and the rival Rapid Support Forces

TEHRAN: The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, Esmail Qaani, has visited Syria to oversee a joint military drill, media outlets in the Islamic republic said.
Qaani, appointed Quds Force commander after a US drone strike on Baghdad killed its revered leader Qasem Soleimani in 2020, met senior Syrian officials in Damascus, Tasnim news agency reported late Thursday.
They held discussions on ways to “confront the military and security challenges facing Syria” and supervised a joint Iran-Syria military exercise, Tasnim said.
Qaani also praised Syria and Iran's “brotherly relations” said Iran “will stand by the Syrian people and leadership in facing its challenges”, the news agency added.
The Quds Force is the foreign operations arm of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The United States placed it on its list of “foreign terrorist organisations” in 2019, but Iran insists its activities abroad are an example of regional cooperation aimed at shoring up stability and blocking Western interference.
Iran has been a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, providing him economic, political, and military support during Syria’s more than 12-year civil war.
Tehran's support helped Damascus claw back most of the territory it lost at the start of the conflict and positioned Iran in a leading role as Assad seeks to focus on reconstruction.
Militias affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards have a heavy presence across Syria but Tehran denies sending forces to fight in Syria, saying it only has military advisers in the war-ravaged country.
The Syrian conflict has claimed more than 500,000 lives, displaced millions and ravaged the country’s infrastructure and industry.
In May, Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi embarked on a landmark visit to Syria, where he called on “resistance forces” to come together to confront Tehran's arch-enemy Israel.
Since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes against Syrian positions as well as Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces, allies of Damascus and arch-foes of Israel.
Israel rarely comments on the strikes on a case-by-case basis, but says it seeks to prevent Iran from establishing a foothold on its doorstep.