A warm thanks to all who donated and helped us raise US$ 51,247. This money is being used to keep cold and vulnerable Palestine refugees safe and warm. Our campaign is now closed, but we will continue to accept donations, as winter is only just beginning.
The following are updates from the field on how your donations are making a difference.
Palestine refugees from Syria
When it struck in December, Alexa - the most powerful winter storm to hit the region in decades - made an already incredibly difficult situation even worse for hundreds of thousands of Palestine refugees and Syrians. Exposure to cold temperatures and high prices for heating fuel left many refugees struggling to stay warm and in desperate need of cash to buy fuel, clothing and bedding. Throughout the country, another major necessity - food - remains expensive and often scarce, and in early January, UNRWA confirmed reports of widespread malnutrition, particularly among children and the elderly trapped in Yarmouk, in Damascus. The continuing violence makes humanitarian assistance increasingly urgent, even as it becomes ever harder to deliver.
The situation of Yarmouk highlights the increasing humanitarian costs of the ongoing violence. Along with reports of death, malnutrition and lack of food and water, residents have spoken to UNRWA of living off spices soaked in water and animal feed. UNRWA has appealed to all parties to allow assistance to reach the civilians of Yarmouk, among them some 18,000 Palestinians. This week, we managed to deliver food parcels into the camp, but only a limited quantity. It is nowhere near enough: We continue to demand that safe, continuous access be granted so that we can provide the people people still in Yarmouk with the emergency assistance that they need.
Your contributions make a difference
The conflict in Syria has led to a humanitarian crisis. So far, out of the 540,000 Palestine refugees in Syria, 350,000 have been displaced both within the country and outside its borders. Through emergency assistance, collective shelters, winterization items and psychosocial support, UNRWA is doing its utmost to alleviate the hardships facing these Palestine refugees as well as Syrians affected by the conflict. UNRWA is also trying to provide some level of normalcy for Palestine refugee families in operationally safe areas, by keeping the Agency's schools, health centres and microfinance and loan offices open and accessible.
Your contributions to our winterization campaign have been extremely important. You helped us deliver 50,180 warm blankets and 7,503 mattresses to displaced refugees. You made it possible for us to provide 21,335 hygiene kits and packs of diapers, helping refugees maintain their personal hygiene and health under extremely challenging circumstances.
In December, we distributed cash - making it possible for 62,112 Palestine refugees to meet their daily food and non-food needs for the next three months - and over 7,300 food parcels. We've also been heating collective shelters and erecting platforms for tents in courtyards, helping insulate against cold and flooding.
Around 11,000 Palestinians from Syria are now in Jordan. Working with Human Appeal International, this winter we provided students with 254 winter clothes vouchers for jackets, scarves, caps, gloves and socks. In 'Cyber City', we distributed 120 hygiene kits to refugee families. For the most vulnerable refugees, including female-headed households, we provided cash assistance totaling US$ 578,355. This money made it possible for these families to buy food and other necessities to get through the winter.
In Lebanon, where the existing social and political vulnerabilities of Palestine refugees present unique challenges, there are now over 51,000 Palestine refugees from Syria (PRS), and their numbers are expected to double by the end of 2014. Half have moved into the 12 overcrowded Palestine refugee camps in Lebanon. Throughout the country, they are struggling to access safe, drinkable water and adequate food for their families, while also facing visa-renewal and bureaucratic difficulties. UNRWA has responded by providing 94 per cent of PRS families in Lebanon with basic winterization items, fuel for a family for one month and clothing, through cash assistance. Seventy-one per cent have received a full winterization package - stoves, blankets and fuel for two months - via cash disbursements. Thanks to your generosity, we will be able to keep helping PRS in Lebanon remain warm and safe this January.
As a result of the crippling blockade imposed in 2007, 1.2 million Palestine refugees in Gaza are struggling to survive. When winter storm Alexa hit, the natural disaster compounded the man-made crisis. The Rafah and Jabalia camps were badly affected by flooding, and in the al-Nafaq neighbourhood of Gaza City, dozens of homes were accessible only by boat. As a result of the storm, some 10,000 people were displaced, some 21,000 homes were damaged, schools were closed and the already widespread stresses of unemployment, hunger and trauma were exacerbated.
How did your contribution bring warmth to cold and vulnerable Palestine refugees from Gaza?
We waded through floodwaters to assist in evacuations. We repaired damaged homes and shelters. For those who were in need, we provided alternative shelter, such as an UNRWA school in Jabalia that we transformed into a temporary home for 600 individuals.
Thanks to your donation, we have provided over 9,000 Palestine refugee families with tarpaulin, blankets, mattresses, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, tents and gas stoves. We will continue providing assistance to thousands of other families in the coming period.
As a result of the blockade, Gaza’s water and sewage treatment facilities are struggling to effectively function. Together with other NGOs and UN agencies under the WASH cluster, we distributed a total of 148,730 litres of fuel to keep the essential water and sewage treatment facilities in Gaza functioning.
How did Winter Storm Alexa impact Palestine refugees?
From 11 to 15 December, Alexa, the strongest winter storm recorded in recent decades, brought heavy snowfall, strong winds and low temperatures across the West Bank. Roads remained icy and dangerous for several days after the storm, making many locations difficult to reach.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that herding communities located across Area C of the West Bank sustained significant damage to already precarious shelters, with an estimated 56,000m2 of animal shed destroyed or damaged. Thousands of homes and shelters in the West Bank are estimated to have sustained some damage. Large segments of the West Bank remained without heating and power for several days, while other localities experienced regular outages.
Due to the flooding, four houses in camps were evacuated, while six houses suffered from domestic fires. Despite knowledge of the coming storm, on 10 December - the very day we launched our campaign – the Israeli authorities demolished residential and other property of several herding communities. UN Humanitarian Coordinator James W. Rawley issued a formal statement in response.
On Christmas Eve, further demolitions took place in the Bedouin communities of Ein Ayoub and Fasayil Al-Wusta, displacing 68 people, among them 46 refugees. We strongly condemned the demolitions.
How did your donation make a difference?
From 11 to 17 December, in the West Bank, we provided emergency relief items to 108 families, composed of 603 individuals. Although our outreach included Bedouin and herding communities, efforts were primarily focused inside Palestine refugee camps, such as Fawwar, Aida, Arroub, Balata and Askar camps. During that week alone, we kept Palestinians warm with 313 blankets, and provided 73 family food parcels containing wheat flour, rice, vegetable oil, sugar and milk powder, as well as 19 kitchen kits.
Just as 2013 was wrapping up, the most severe winter storm in many years hit the region as a reminder of how extreme are the challenges facing Palestine refugees. With winter setting in and not one of the five fields in which we work untouched by crisis, it was already going to be difficult for Palestine refugees to send their kids to school, put food on the table, see their doctors or even just plan for tomorrow. In a few ferocious days of rain, wind, snow and extreme cold, the storm called "Alexa" made things even worse.
In the 60 per cent of the West Bank that is Area C - under full Israeli control - Palestine refugees from Bedouin and herding communities are facing a very difficult winter. Their access to services like schools and infrastructure like sewerage or water is extremely limited. Their homes, schools and communities - rudimentary and insufficient as they are - routinely receive demolition orders or are threatened by Israeli settlers. Living with the constant threat of yet more displacement and separation has placed an immense psychological stress on these communities.
The situation in Gaza has been deteriorating for a long time, due to many years of conflict and closure. On 1 November, the Gaza Power Plant finally had to stop working - so, this winter, Gazans will be facing power outages of up to 16 hours a day. Homes, businesses, schools, hospitals and even public infrastructure have already been affected, making UNRWA services, from food assistance to medications, even more vital.
Now nearly 3 years old, the conflict in Syria has grown into one of the most difficult challenges UNRWA has witnessed in the past six decades. Of the 529,000 Palestine refugees in Syria, 80 per cent need urgent assistance, and more than half have fled their homes. Most remain within the country, at collective shelters or in safer areas, but tens of thousands are now in Lebanon or Jordan. Their flight exposes them to new difficulties and new dangers in unfamiliar environments, where already-stretched services struggle to fulfil their needs.
In all these areas, UNRWA has worked over the past year to provide Palestine refugees with the services that they need: Education, health care, relief and assistance, as well as emergency assistance. This winter, it's even more important that we continue to do so - especially as they work to recover from the storm. With your help, we can #givewrap to make a hard winter a little bit easier.
This winter, the cold and the storm have worsened the sufferings of Palestine refugees. With the support of people like you, we hope to raise US$ 50,000 by 31 December. The funds will help #GiveWrap blankets, heating fuel, stoves, warm clothes and plastic sheeting to cold and vulnerable refugees.
The devastating impact of the torrential rains this December on the Gaza Strip - the flooded streets, the evacuated homes, the large swathes of the territory that became, overnight, a disaster area - only highlighted the emergency that has been developing for a long time now. Years of conflict and closure had already brought Gaza close to the breaking point, as shown by the shutdown, on 1 November, of the Gaza Power Plant. But among the 1.7 million residents - many of them Palestine refugees - unemployment, hunger, stress and trauma were already widespread. In winter, daily life for them will grow even more cold, dark and difficult.
For Salah Uliyan, a Palestine refugee in Beach camp, Gaza, daily life is a numbers game: There is a careful arithmetic that gets him from each day to the next. He is the head of an eight-person family - including himself, his wife, and the four daughters and two sons who range from 2 to 17 years old. The home they own - one room, a small bathroom and a kitchen - is exactly 60 square meters. But those numbers are just the basics.
Many of the 11,000 Palestinians who have fled the violence in Syria and sought refuge in Jordan are refugees for the second, third or even fourth time. Their lives have been marked with seemingly endless cycles of fear and uncertainty. Now, with their savings dwindling and winter closing in, they need UNRWA's assistance more than ever.
The Syria conflict, which has entered its third winter of war, has seen the displacement of over half of the Palestine refugees in Syria, or about 270,000 children, women and men. An additional 80,000 have fled to neighbouring countries, including Lebanon. For many, this is the second and even third time of displacement in their lifetime.
In Lebanon, some 51,000 Palestine refugees from Syria were counted at the end of November 2013. Over half of these refugees are sheltering in the 12 already over crowded Palestine refugee camps in the country. The rest find shelter where they can, in apartments for rent, garages or under a staircase. The hardship of the Palestine refugees from Syria is compounded by the existing legal and social vulnerabilities of other Palestine refugees in the country. Following three years of persistent conflict and deteriorating economic conditions in Syria, their resilience is severely challenged.
Nearly three years of conflict have devastated Syria, taking thousands of lives and crippling the country's systems. Palestine refugees have not been spared, and as they face the third winter of violence, displacement and hardship, the outlook seems terribly bleak. More than half of the over 500,000 Palestine refugees in Syria have had to leave their homes, entering what is for many a second exile. Around 270,000 remain within Syria itself, the majority in Damascus, but there are more than 50,000 in Lebanon and over 10,000 in Jordan.
Wherever they have sought safety - in collective shelters in Syria, in the overcrowded Palestine refugee camps in Lebanon, in urban areas in Jordan - Palestine refugees remain vulnerable. In many cases, they enter a precarious legal limbo and incredibly difficult living conditions that winter, bringing with it cold and snow and wind, will only make worse.
Across the region, Palestine refugees are vulnerable to the stress of conflict, displacement and emergencies. The challenges of daily life only increase as winter sets in.
The West Bank is no exception, so we're beginning our wrap-up of this challenging year with a photo essay documenting some the difficulties facing Palestine refugees who live in a Bedouin community on the eastern periphery of Jerusalem.