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World Bank to approve emergency funds for Gaza

Oct. 23, 2014 9:00 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 21, 2014 12:25 P.M.)
By: George Hale
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The World Bank is set to allocate millions of dollars for emergency aid to the war-torn Gaza Strip, a top official says.

Inger Andersen says the aid, expected to be approved Oct. 30, will fund repairs to damaged infrastructure and help the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority recover losses incurred in Israel’s five-week assault.

“We’re rushing through four emergency projects right now,” Andersen, the World Bank’s vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, said in an interview with Ma’an, which will air over the weekend.

“We are trying very much to respond to this crisis and respond quickly enough.”

The budget assistance will allow the Palestinian Authority to recoup the costs of medical bills from treating thousands of Palestinians hurt in the 50 days of violence.

The rest of the $63 million will go toward repairing water, power and municipal infrastructure. Existing World Bank projects are worth a combined $180 million, of which half is designated for Gaza.

Over 11,000 Palestinians suffered injuries during fighting between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza during July and August, according to United Nations estimates. More than 2,000 Palestinians and 73 Israelis died.

The UN also counts 18,000 households as destroyed or damaged, while over 100,000 Palestinians remained displaced by September. The enclave’s sole power plant has operated only a few hours per day since it came under fire.

‘New and additional’ aid

On Oct. 12, international donors pledged over $5 billion at a Cairo conference on reconstructing the coastal enclave. The total exceeded the $4 billion requested by the Palestinian Authority.

Andersen said that response “has to be commended” but she urged donors not to simply reallocate funds pledged for existing projects, or from the West Bank.

“Redistributing money from before the crisis would create an untenable and unsustainable situation with respect to the budget deficit. Donors need to step up, and step up with more resources,” Andersen said.

“This money has to move fast and has to be new and has to be additional.”

She also warned donors against neglecting Gaza and the Palestinian territories as violence rages in Iraq and Syria. The World Bank shut down operations in Syria in 2012 but maintains an office in Baghdad.

In the interview, recorded Tuesday, Andersen dismissed complaints from Hamas and others in Gaza that much of the pledged money would end up being spent on the West Bank.

“It will be very important that the authority spends this on rehabilitation in Gaza. I have no reason to believe this will not be the case,” she said, adding that the World Bank had no intention to cooperate with Hamas.

“We deal with the institutions that are the expression of the Palestinian Authority,” which is based in the West Bank. “These institutions are the ones with whom we have relations with and with whom we sign agreements.”

Hamas says the authorities in Gaza itself should be included in the decision-making process, and it has criticized Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s insistence that the funds go through the West Bank-based government.

Hamadallah announced earlier in October that about half of the funds promised in Cairo would be spent in the West Bank. His remarks drew criticism from Hamas, which formed a consensus government with its rival Fatah in June.

Andersen said the bank’s operations had not changed since that deal.

“At a technical level, we are dealing with the very same people. How that expression of the consensus government might express that is still to be borne out,” she said.

Bank must be transparent

Andersen, a 14-year veteran of the organization, says she will step down in January 2015 to head the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

She would become the fourth high-profile employee to leave the bank since President Jim Yong Kim took charge in 2012 and instituted a controversial restructuring plan.

While some of the bank’s 15,000 employees have voiced concerns about a lack of transparency amid the reshuffling, Andersen said the management had taken measures to mitigate fears.

“Maybe the learning point that we’ve taken is more communication with staff is important,” she said. “I think our president has stepped up in a significant way ... to ensure that we can be as transparent as possible.

“Which is, after all, what we preach to our government clients - right?”
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