Peter Hansen, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), told representatives of 25 countries and the European Union that the Agency’s financial difficulties stem from a $31 million budget shortfall. “The level of expected income is currently estimated at $280 million against the General Assembly approved budget of $311 million,” said Mr. Hansen, noting that of the pledged income, $65 million remained outstanding. Only the last minute arrival of $20 million from the European Union would allow UNRWA to pay staff salaries for October, he added. The Commissioner-General said recent events heightened the importance of the Agency’s work. “We are passing through a very difficult political stage in the region and the Agency has in the past been credited with having contributed to stability,” he said. “Now more than ever, there is a vital need for this role.””The refugees need to be assured that the commitments of the international community to their welfare will continue,” he stressed. Describing deteriorating conditions faced by UNRWA, Mr. Hansen said its school buildings were crumbling. “They are a risk and a danger to pupils and teachers and exemplify the situation we are in,” he said. “What we face today is a threat to the infrastructure of the Agency.” In the West Bank and Gaza, Israel’s closure policy had caused an economic downturn which forced almost 80 per cent of all refugees under the poverty line. “Clearly this is an explosive situation that we all have a responsibility to try to avoid,” said Mr. Hansen. Israeli blockades and closures were also forcing UNRWA to engage in a “daily struggle” to reach camps and villages. Today’s meeting began with a minute of silence for the victims of the 11 September terrorist attacks against the United States.