The socio-economic situation in Gaza has steadily deteriorated since the onset of the second intifada in September 2000. Tightened restrictions on movement of goods and people have led to private sector collapse, eroded the productive base and left hundreds of thousands of people unemployed.
The conflict in Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 left large-scale destruction in its wake. A total of 1,393 Palestinians, including 358 children, were killed, more than 5,300 were injured, and some 60,000 shelters were demolished or damaged.
The policy of blockade imposed on Gaza since June 2007 has prompted unprecedented poverty levels. Society is being broken down as every aspect of people’s daily lives is affected. About three-quarters of the population are now aid dependent, and receive food assistance to ensure their mere survival.
Young, creative and skilled people have no jobs and no prospects for a job. Parents are no longer able to provide for their families after years of unemployment and steady depletion of saving and other resources. Families can’t boil water for their babies as the electricity is cut off for hours every day. Children have rotating classes and spend hours in the yard as no one is able to build new classrooms to accommodate them. At the same time, industrial estates stand idle as if in a ghost town.
This loss of dignity threatens the fabric of civilised society, with children worst affected by the crisis.
What is UNRWA doing?
During and after the recent conflict in Gaza, UNRWA staff provided essential services and in-kind assistance to a population under severe stress. More than 50,000 Gazans took shelter in UNRWA schools in the midst of the conflict. The Agency offered basic food, water, blankets and mattresses to tens of thousands of displaced families and individuals.
Since late 2000, we have operated our emergency programme to protect and safeguard the rights of Palestine refugees in difficult circumstances.
Our activities address the immediate and longer-term consequences of protracted conflict in support of individual and community coping strategies. Our humanitarian assistance mitigates the negative effects of the violent environment, giving special attention to those most affected and vulnerable, especially children and the poorest of the poor.
Reconstruction and early recovery
No reconstruction or recovery activities have taken place because of the blockade imposed on Gaza. Destroyed refugee shelters will only be rebuilt once construction materials are allowed into Gaza. Until such a time, UNRWA support to Palestine refugees displaced or made homeless by conflict or other crises includes emergency cash assistance and the provision of basic relief items.
Supporting the livelihoods of the vulnerable
UNRWA alleviates the impact of unprecedented unemployment and poverty through the provision of 7,000-15,000 work contracts per month, supporting tens of thousands of indirect beneficiaries. This provides much-needed employment to men and women, injects cash into the local economy, and supports the development of skills among unemployed young graduates. In any one year, UNRWA will provide 25,000-40,000 such jobs, and could provide up to 55,000 jobs, depending on funds available.
Around 80 per cent of Gazan households are dependent on food aid. Recent UNRWA data indicate that more than 300,000 refugees in Gaza live below the abject poverty line and are unable to meet their basic food needs. Through emergency food aid, UNRWA seeks to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and counter the impact of people’s chronic difficulties affording food. At present, 750,000 refugees receive food aid. A separate school-feeding programme ensures all 207,000 pupils at UNRWA schools receive basic nutrition.
To complement job creation and food assistance, UNRWA offers targeted cash assistance. 60,000 of the poorest families are eligible to receive such assistance, but limited funds means we are only able to help 20,000 families. Financial support is also provided to students at UNRWA schools. Paying for uniforms and other essential items makes sure every child, however poor, is able to return to school.
Strengthening essential services and emergency response
As part of the emergency programme, we have strengthened our support for essential services, especially health, education and environmental health. The Agency closely monitors its interventions and maintains a rapid response capacity to ensure an effective response to acute crises affecting refugee communities.
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