Save the Children welcomes Australia’s decision to reinstate funding to UNRWA

Australia must immediately reinstate suspended funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) or risk allowing the collapse of a critical lifeline to more than a million children in Gaza who are deeply traumatised and at imminent risk of starvation, Save the Children Australia warned today.

The Australian Government has refused to commit to reinstating the suspended funding despite meeting with the director of UNRWA affairs in Gaza in Canberra last week to discuss the catastrophic humanitarian situation and an earlier admission from the Australian Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, that resuming funding to UNRWA is the only realistic route “if we are serious about trying to ensure that fewer children are starving.”

Israel’s relentless bombardment and systematic deprivation of aid in Gaza has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern history, with about 85% of the population displaced and the entire child population facing starvation.

Israeli strikes have killed at least 12,500 children in just under five months of war, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza. The UN has said at least 90% of children under the age of five in Gaza are affected by one or more infectious diseases.

Australia, along with several other donors, suspended new funding to UNRWA following serious allegations made by the Government of Israel that 12 UNRWA staff members were involved in the October 7 attack on Israel.

UNRWA has since declared that it will run out of funds as soon as the end of March unless donors urgently reinstate funding.

NGOs including Save the Children are doing everything they can to support children and families in Gaza, but UNRWA is the largest humanitarian agency, running hundreds of healthcare clinics, schools, and other essential services. It would be impossible for any other organisation or UN agency to replace UNRWA.

The number of aid trucks entering Gaza has dropped by more than a third in recent weeks according to UN data, despite the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordering Israel last month to “take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed humanitarian aid” as part of its provisional measures to protect Palestinians in Gaza from the risk of genocide.

Australia and the rest of the international community continues to be bound by their obligations under the ICJ ruling, and international humanitarian law more broadly, to protect Palestinians, which includes ensuring that humanitarian aid is reaching those in need in Gaza.

While some donors suspended funding to UNRWA, others have not only maintained funding but increased funding to the UN agency. Altogether though, UNRWA is facing a shortfall of US$450 million from a budget of $880 million.

Save the Children and other international aid agencies are urging Australia and other donors to not only resume suspended funding but to scale up funding to UNRWA and other agencies working in Gaza as quickly as possible.

Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said that by continuing to withhold funding from UNRWA, Australia and other donors have effectively removed the crumbs that Gaza’s children are surviving on.

“Allowing the collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza by refusing to restore funding to UNRWA during one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern history risks the deaths of many more children in this horrific war.

“The Foreign Minister has publicly acknowledged that the only way to stop children from starving to death in Gaza is to resume funding to UNRWA. Yet the Australian Government has not articulated a clear pathway forward that would allow funding to be restored, despite UNRWA warning it will soon have to cease its lifesaving work.

“Reinstating the suspended funding is the bare minimum Australia should be doing. The magnitude of this crisis requires Australia to take urgent action to help prevent further widespread suffering and death, by increasing its funding to organisations working in Gaza to save lives, including UNRWA and International NGOs. The clock is ticking, and fast.”

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