The United Nations agency assisting Palestinian refugees across the Middle East announced today that it will begin reducing staff numbers in an effort to cut costs amid a wider budget shortfall facing the Organization’s presence in the region. In a statement issued earlier today, Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), confirmed that 85 per cent of all 137 international personnel on short term contracts will be separated in a phased process lasting until the end of September. “UNRWA is taking this measure to reduce costs as much as possible without reducing services to refugees,” explained Mr. Gunness, noting that the UN agency retained a $101 million deficit but would continue nonetheless with “robust efforts in resource mobilisation.” “As things currently stand, with stringent austerity measures already in place beyond today’s announcement, the Agency should be able to continue with life-saving services to the end of the year,” he continued. Among the ongoing efforts, Mr. Gunness said UNRWA would maintain its health programmes, relief and social services, and sanitation and emergency projects for which it had remaining funds. At the same time, the agency’s school system – which currently services half a million children across Jordan, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Syria – remains in a more precarious situation. “Some difficult decisions may be needed in coming weeks if the deficit is not filled,” he warned. The situation afflicting the Palestinians across the Middle East region is, in fact, quite dramatic, according to the latest UN data. Gaza today is home to the highest unemployment levels in the world, with more than 60 per cent of young people not working. Meanwhile, some 60,000 Palestine refugees from Syria have fled to Lebanon and Jordan, putting pressure on host communities. From Syria’s Yarmouk and Jordan’s camps to the West Bank, the lives of Palestine refugees are constrained, with poverty and deprivation overflowing in overcrowded camps and the needs of the communities continuing to grow resources. Adding to UNRWA’s list of concerns is the dire situation facing the agency’s emergency funding which, for its Syria appeal, currently stands at only 27 per cent met. UNRWA’s Gaza reconstruction appeal is similarly underfunded with only $216 million in pledges received out of a total $720 million needed.