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Date posted: November 09, 2002
By UN

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM - Palestinian refugees are facing an acute humanitarian crisis marked by high rates of unemployment, poverty and malnutrition, the head of a major United Nations relief agency in the area said today. "There can be no question that we are indeed living through a downward spiral," said Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). "Few places have ever undergone as steep and rapid a decline in income and living standards and as rapid an increase in mass deprivation as the Palestinian population has been experiencing for the past two years."

Unemployment has jumped to up to 80 per cent in certain parts of the occupied territories, while the level of absolute poverty had risen "disastrously," he said, with some 70 per cent of the population now living on less than $2 per person per day.

Levels of acute malnutrition have reached 25 per cent, hitting women and children the hardest.

Israeli restrictions were blocking access to employment by workers, schools by children, and clinics by doctors and patients. The vaccination rate had dropped to 85 per cent. "If it falls below that, we are running real risks of epidemics as diseases spread," warned Hansen.

Curfews and blockages of villages, towns and camps continue to affect several hundred thousand people, and some areas, such as Nablus, were under virtually continuous curfew.

Such conditions "completely strangulate the local economy and hence help this downward spiral to accelerate," said the Commissioner-General. Coping mechanisms were being exhausted. "It's a very bleak picture indeed."

In response, UNRWA was delivering emergency relief to the affected population, but this year, the Agency had received only $90 million of the $172 million it sought from donors. He noted with appreciation that the United Arab Emirates had contributed $27 million to rebuild the refugee camp in Jenin, but added that a lack of adequate funding overall had hampered aid efforts.

"I continue to appeal to the international community not to let the refugees be forgotten," he said, adding that discussions were ongoing with the Israeli authorities to enable UNRWA to have improved access to those in need of assistance.

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