While trying to cope with the worst humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1948, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) faces a budget deficit of $17 million this year, its chief told a meeting of 27 countries in Amman today.UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen said the fallout from the regular budget crisis was being compounded by the fact that fully half of the Agency’s Emergency Appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory this year remains unfunded. This year UNRWA asked the international community to provide it with $173 million for food and medical aid, job creation schemes and the rebuilding of destroyed refugee shelters. So far only $87.5 million has been pledged, with one third of that coming from the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent Society to rebuild the Jenin refugee camp.Of the amount pledged, the Agency has received just under $47 million. As a result, UNRWA will be forced to cut back on food and other emergency aid for Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the West Bank despite recent studies showing growing malnutrition among the area’s children. “As the Agency responsible for humanitarian assistance to almost half the population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the challenges we now face are as great as any in our long and turbulent history,” Mr. Hansen told donors. “There is no more efficient vehicle in the region than UNRWA for delivering humanitarian assistance, but the international community will only be able to use this vehicle if it keeps it maintained.”The Commissioner-General also warned that the stretched coping capacity of the Palestinian people would have severe consequences. “After two years of violence, unemployment is around 60 per cent, half the population is living below the poverty rate and hunger is on the increase,” he said. “Clearly the breaking point – with consequences much worse than those we’ve already seen – must be somewhere close.”Calling UNRWA’s financial woes “a very bad message to be giving to the refugees at this incredibly difficult time,” Mr. Hansen urged the international community to “make every effort” to come up with additional contributions during the remaining months of this year. He also noted that the recent report by the Secretary General’s Personal Humanitarian Envoy, Catherine Bertini, blamed the humanitarian hardship largely on the lack of access to work, services and goods due to curfews and closures.