15 November – 22 November 2016 | issue 171
“The destruction of our home also led to many other difficulties; for example the home we are able to rent with UNRWA support was far away from our original neighbourhood and therefore the children needed much more time to walk to their schools – as we cannot afford paying transport for them. Because we had to move away from our neighbourhood, we also lost our social network and our friends.”
Etimad Al-Ejla, Palestine refugee. Read more here.
- In November 2016, UNRWA was able to pay the third quarter transitional shelter cash assistance to all displaced and eligible refugee families in Gaza. This assistance is made possible for available to those families whose homes were severely damaged or totally destroyed and rendered uninhabitable during the 2014 conflict. Households receive this subsidy so they can cope with temporary arrangements while they are waiting to reconstruct or repair their houses. UNRWA makes the cash assistance available if/when it has the funds to do so from donors to the 2016 occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) Emergency Appeal. UNRWA has been able to make all quarterly rental subsidy payments in 2016 so far. Yet with this third quarter payment, UNRWA is in critical need of US$ 5.5 million to meet the fourth and final rental subsidy payment for 2016. The Agency already in June 2016 advised donors of critical funding gaps facing the Emergency Appeal for the oPt. To raise awareness among donors and the general public, the Gaza-based UNRWA TV produced a short advocacy video focusing on TSCA under the slogan and social media hashtag: #rebuildhomesrebuildlives. Further, a photo essay telling the stories of still displaced refugee families dependent on shelter subsidy payments in Gaza can be read here. Without support, families will have to either live in damaged, half-repaired houses – including through a coming third winter with potential storms, heavy rains and flooding – or will have to mobilize their own funds and go into debt to rent shelter alternatives, leaving them in dire financial conditions. UNRWA calls upon donors to fulfil the critical funding needs of the 2016 oPt Emergency Appeal, and specifically for US$ 5.5 million for transitional shelter cash assistance in Gaza. The attached fact sheet provides an overview of the 2014 conflict and the UNRWA shelter response as at end of October 2016.
- In April 2015, in a town hall meeting in Deir El Balah camp, central Gaza, UNRWA announced the commencement of its innovative camp improvement pilot project. The community consultation, mapping and development is finished and the planning work is near completion. UNRWA architect and urban planner Ms. Liv Framgard, who leads the urban planning of the project, has recently shared her knowledge and experience at the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador. Habitat III is a UN conference on housing and sustainable urban development held only every 20 years. In collaboration with NORCAP, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s expert deployment capacity, Ms. Framgard also organized a workshop at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design in Norway. A group of Master students have since been working on developing design solutions for specific challenges in the Deir El Balah project. Ms. Framgard’s expertise in sustainable urban development is summarised in a book titled “sustainable settlements”, recently published by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). UNRWA understands that the participation of affected communities in urban development design is pivotal for its success. The Camp improvement project planning phase has involved community participation in two stages (first, thematic focus groups and later, urban planning workshops), technical mapping of all buildings, socio-economic mapping, conceptual urban development -including street and open space creation, all infrastructure networks, solar street lighting- and redesigning four new community institutions. All interventions are based on community priorities and aim to develop the camp in a holistic and sustainable manner. The camp improvement team has further made preliminary demolition and reconstruction agreements with hundreds of affected families, in order to ensure smooth implementation and that all developments are endorsed by the community.
- The UNRWA Microfinance Department (MD) has been awarded the ‘Transparency Award’ atSanabel’s 12th annual conference which convened in Casablanca, Morocco on 1-2 November 2016. The award was received in recognition of achieving the highest standards of data and information disclosure, including financial performance, social performance, and/or management and governance, as well as UNRWA’s commitment to responsible pricing practices that promote the integrity of microfinance as a poverty-alleviation practice. This year’s Sanabel Conference gathered more than 400 participants representing a mix of practitioners, policymakers, funders and investors to discuss and learn about regional progress and evolving trends for the advancement of a more inclusive microfinance sector in the Arab region. UNRWA shared its microfinance experience in serving Palestine refugees. Considered a peer learning process, the MD outlined how it adapted its products, manuals and delivery channels to target internally displaced Palestine refugees from Syria in response to their evolving needs. The UNRWA MD, created in 1991, provides sustainable income-generation opportunities for Palestine refugees, as well as other poor or marginalized groups who live and work near them. Its credit extensions and financial services create and sustain jobs, reduce poverty and empower our clients, particularly women. Since 1991, the Microfinance Department (MD) disbursed almost 400,000 loans worth US$ 440 million; in Gaza alone, the MP issued over 114,000 loans worth almost US$ 148 million.
- Against the background of the Gaza 2014 Board of Inquiry’s recommendations as well as an evaluation of the UNRWA Safety and Security Programme 2012-2015, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl launched an initiative to direct security and risk management more towards the expectations and needs of frontline staff. In line with this initiative the UNRWA Safety and Security Division (SSD) in Gaza will be renamed to Field Security and Risk Management (FSRM). The Agency embraces its staff as its most valuable asset to implement its mandate, and the FSRM support’s UNRWA’s mandate by providing guidance, support and training to staff with the objective to retain the capacity to effectively deliver services whilst managing contextual, programmatic and professional work-place risks, by preventing injury or violent death of staff members, the willful damage or destruction of the Agency’s assets and/or forced suspension or withdrawal of programmes and mitigating and recovering from the impact of such incidents, in case these occur. As part of the new initiative, the Gaza Field Office will be the first of all five fields of UNRWA operations to start a new training programme for UNRWA Area Staff to improve their safety and security – called the UN standard Safe and Secure Approaches to the Field Environment (SSAFE). It is currently undertaken by all UN Internationals and National Staff of UN agencies under the United Nations Security Management System (UNSMS), including those based in Gaza, but never before available to UNRWA Area Staff. The training ensures that area staff are better prepared for the threats they face when delivering essential humanitarian services. On completion of this two day training all area staff shall receive a certificate from the United Nations System Staff College (UNSSC), Italy.
- In late October, the UNRWA Gaza Training Centre (GTC) organized a graduation ceremony to celebrate the creativity and innovation of its students who completed various different technical and vocational training courses. The ceremony also included an exhibition of the samples of the best inventions by students. One of these creative projects was by a group of five telecommunications-major female graduates who produced a voice-controlled robot integrated within a traditional wheelchair. The goal of this project is to promote self-mobility and enable people with disabilities to control the wheelchair using a voice-recognition system. The voice commands, such as “forward, back, right, and left”, sent by a mobile application to the robot, are transformed into actions. The communication medium between the mobile application as an input and the wheelchair as an output is Bluetooth technology. This cost-effective system was developed with local materials within four months, and is designed to allow people with disabilities to be more independent. The project came first in a competition held earlier this year, on the International Day for the Females of Information Technology. The competition was organized by UCAS, a technology incubator at the University College of Applied Sciences in Gaza, in partnership with Oxfam International Foundation and funded by Danida, the Danish International Development Agency. The group is also expected to participate in the Expotech exhibition, Palestine Technology week on 27 November.
- In the third quarter of 2016 the average unemployment rate in Gaza reached 43.2 per cent, according to thePalestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). This is the third consecutive increase in quarterly unemployment rates and the highest level since the 2014 conflict. The statistics for women are even more worrying, as the rate for female unemployment increased further to 68.6 per cent, the highest ever recorded by PCBS. Higher education does not protect from unemployment either. Unemployment for graduates (holding at least an Associate Diploma Certificate) reached 44 per cent in quarter three of 2016, as opposed to 28 per cent in the West Bank, as PCBS further reports. This result largely diverges if disaggregated by sex: while for men unemployment decreases with the completion of higher education, it increases for women. These numbers signal once more that the Gaza economy is in further decline – and this from an already very low base. The real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted by 5.6 per cent in the second quarter of 2016 compared to the previous quarter, states PCBS. The economic slowdown was primarily driven by the construction and agriculture sectors, which shrank by 45 per cent and 26 per cent respectively compared to the previous quarter. The decline also follows the irregular and intermittent reconstruction activity in Gaza.
The UNRWA Shelter Update
- UNRWA was able to disburse over USD$ 1.6 million for reconstruction (US$ 1.2 million) and severe repair works (US$ 409,000). The funds will reach 219 refugee families across Gaza; they will be able to access their assistance this week.
A comprehensive shelter update will be provided in the next situation report.
- During the reporting week, a Palestinian youth was killed and two others were injured during a protest near the perimeter fence with Israel. The protestors, civilians and mostly youth, expressed their eagerness to defend Al Aqsa Mosque and in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank. When some of them approached the perimeter fence and threw stones towards Israeli observation posts, Israeli forces responded with gun fire and teargas.
Various other protests were held during the week, in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails or against the potential Israeli decision to ban the call to prayer via mosques loudspeakers in Jerusalem.
During the week under review, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis. Militants fired one test rocket towards the sea.
Moving back home: A little bit less worry, a little bit less fear for Gaza’s displaced
Shukri Ali is painting the door of his house which was totally destroyed during the 2014 conflict and was recently reconstructed with the help of UNRWA in Gaza. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Rushdi Al-Sarraj
Shukri Ali is a Palestine refugee who was born and lived his whole life in Shujjaiya, a neighbourhood in eastern Gaza city heavily affected during the 2014 conflict. He and his family had to flee their home during the hostilities. When they returned after the ceasefire in August 2016, they found their house totally destroyed and neighbourhood severely damaged. For two years, the family lived the life of the internally displaced in Gaza, moving from one over-crowded rented home to another. The rent they were only able to pay due to UNRWA’s support in form of transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA); not much more than a few weeks ago, the family finally completed the reconstruction of their house – also with payments from UNRWA – and moved back to their old, still largely damaged neighbourhood.
Shukri said, “I used to work as a labourer, but since the blockade was imposed [on Gaza], I can barely find work. If UNRWA did not support us through rental subsidies, we would not have known where to go and what to do. Now we are back home, and I feel just relieved. But I also see and can barely bear the sadness in the eyes of many of my relatives who are still waiting to rebuild and reconstruct their houses, which they lost in the conflict.”
Over two years after the open-ended ceasefire commenced on 26 August 2014, most people and institutions in the coastal enclave are still struggling to cope with their immense losses, according to the Gaza: Two Years After report by the UN Country Team in the State of Palestine. Approximately 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged during the conflict, affecting over 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza. Another 153,000 homes sustained damage but were categorized as inhabitable – meaning that families continued to live in their homes with broken windows, doors or walls. Around 70 per cent of the affected persons are Palestine refugees: a total of 142,071 Palestine refugee homes were impacted in the hostilities; 9,117 were totally destroyed and 5,417 suffered severe damage.
Etimad Al Ejla, Shukri’s wife, could not hide her smile when she explained how she felt when she could finally move back to her old, now newly reconstructed home. The two-year long displacement had increased her feelings of social and economic insecurity, for example by disrupting her former communal support network. In addition, every month, Etimad’s said, she was worried that suddenly the family could not pay the rent anymore and would end up in the street. With the reconstructed house, these fears were exchanged for feelings of some stability and security in the very unstable, insecure Gaza Strip.
As of beginning of November, UNRWA distributed over US$ 222.4 million to families whose homes were damaged or destroyed. Besides payments for repair and reconstruction works, UNRWA provides displaced refugee families with quarterly rental subsidy payments. With this money they can rent an alternative home while awaiting the reconstruction and repair of their houses.
All eligible refugee families received the third quarter 2016 TSCA payments. Yet UNRWA is in critical need of US$ 5.5 million to provide families with the final payment for this year. Rental subsidy payments are a pivotal coping mechanism for those who are still displaced. Without this assistance, families risk spending the coming winter in damaged, half-repaired homes or will have to go deeply into debt to try and pay rent by themselves.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall, projected for 2016 to stand at US$ 74 million. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s Programme Budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
Following the 2014 conflict, US$ 257 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency shelter programme, for which an estimated US$ 720 million is required. This leaves a current shortfall of US$ 463 million. UNRWA urgently appeals to donors to generously contribute to its emergency shelter programme to provide displaced Palestine refugees in Gaza with rental subsidies or cash assistance to undertake repair works and reconstruction of their damaged homes.
As presented in UNRWA’s occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) Emergency Appeal for 2016, the Agency is seeking US$ 403 million to meet the minimum humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees in the oPt. The Agency requires US$ 355.95 million for programme interventions in Gaza, including US$ 109.7 million for emergency food assistance, US$ 142.3 million for emergency shelter assistance, US$ 60.4 million for emergency cash-for-work assistance, US$ 4.4 million for emergency health/mobile health clinics and US$ 3.1 for education in emergencies. More information can be found here.
Longstanding restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza have undermined the living conditions of 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza.Israel prevents all access to and from the Gaza Strip by sea and air. Movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza is restricted to three crossings: Rafah crossing, Erez crossing and Kerem Shalom crossing. Rafah crossing is controlled by the Egyptian authorities and technically allows for the movement of a number of authorized travelers, Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases only. Erez crossing is controlled by Israeli authorities and technically allows for the movement of aid workers and limited numbers of authorized travellers, including Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases. Kerem Shalom crossing, also controlled by Israeli authorities, technically allows for the movement of authorized goods only.
- Rafah crossing was open from 14 to 18 November in both directions. It was closed during the remaining days of the reporting week.
- Erez crossing is usually open six days a week. This week it was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and international staff from 15 to 17 November and 20 to 21 November. On 18 November it was open for pedestrians only. On 19 November it was closed.
- Kerem Shalom crossing is the only official crossing open for the transfer of goods into and out of the Strip and is usually open five days a week. It was open from 15 to 17 November and from 20 to 21 November. It was closed on 18 and 19 November.