Skip to main content

Intel: Amid US funding gap, UN Palestinian refugee agency seeks $93M in coronavirus aid

As the coronavirus continues its spread through the impoverished West Bank and Gaza Strip, the United Nations refugee agency for Palestinians is seeking emergency funding to help with what it calls the worst financial crisis in the organization’s 70-year history.
A Palestinian woman sits outside her home in Jabalia refugee camp, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the northern Gaza Strip May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem - RC2CIG93IB6K

As the coronavirus continues its spread through the impoverished West Bank and Gaza Strip, the United Nations refugee agency for Palestinians is seeking emergency funding to help with what it calls the worst financial crisis in the organization’s 70-year history. 

The UN Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, announced a $93.4 million urgent appeal Friday to help cover the cost of food aid, cash assistance and other vital services to Palestinians suffering financially as a result of the coronavirus crisis. 

The agency provides humanitarian assistance to 5.6 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants living in the Palestinian territories, as well as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  

The renewed plea to donors comes as a funding crunch has forced UNRWA, which runs 144 clinics staffed by 3,200 health care workers, to scale back or shutter programs entirely.

Why it matters: “We have been facing chronic financial challenges with the loss of our biggest donor in 2018,” Elizabeth Campbell, UNRWA's director in Washington, told Al-Monitor. “That has meant that we’ve had to sort of operate financially on a month-to-month basis.” 

The Donald Trump administration announced it would halt US funding — some $360 million — to the agency in 2018, labeling UNRWA “an irredeemably flawed operation” that it would no longer support. 

“It has had a corrosive impact on our institutions,” Campbell said of cuts from the United States, once the agency’s biggest donor.   

In mid-April, the administration announced it would be providing $5 million in disaster assistance for the Palestinian territories, far short of the hundreds of millions the Trump administration slashed in 2018 and just 7% of the Palestinian aid Congress appropriated for this fiscal year. 

What’s next: Earlier this week, the Palestinian Authority announced a one-month extension of its partial lockdown intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The total number of confirmed cases across the West Bank and Gaza stands at 547, with four recorded deaths. 

Health experts are particularly concerned about the potential for a wider outbreak in Gaza, a besieged territory of some 2 million people, many of whom live in crowded refugee camps. Military conflict with Israel, internal political instability and a 13-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade have left hospitals overburdened and understaffed.  

UNRWA’s coronavirus work in both the West Bank and Gaza ranges from quarantining possible cases to coordinating telemedicine to providing health care workers with personal protective equipment  Without additional funding, the agency could be forced to discontinue those services. 

Know more: Daoud Kuttab takes a look at the praise directed at a potential Mahmoud Abbas successor, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, for his response to the coronavirus outbreak. Ahmad Abu Amer describes life in Gaza as restaurants begin opening their doors to fearful citizens. 

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Palestine Briefing Palestine Briefing

Palestine Briefing

Top Palestine stories in your inbox each week

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial