Gaza Situation Report 45

22 August 2014
Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

22 August 2014 | issue 45

Update As Of 18:00

Another unprecedented IDP record tonight: 292,489 IDPs sheltered in 84 UNRWA schools. 

The number of IDPs in 84 UNRWA schools is close to the population size of Cincinnati (296,942) and Bonn (309,869, former capital of Germany), and more than double the population of Berne, the capital of Switzerland (127,515).

The total number of IDPs supported by UNRWA is 326,559 (including 34,070 IDPs sheltered in government shelters).

Highlights

  • The daily updates from UNRWA might have given the erroneous impression of an infinite absorption capacity of displaced, an unlimited ability to respond and a sense of normalcy. The situation on the ground is a starkly different reality. 
  • With the military escalation in its 46th day and world attention turning towards other crises, the intensity of hostilities has reverted to the early days of the operation. Unlike at the beginning of the escalation, however, aerial bombardments occur during the daytime and west of the former buffer zone, where all of UNRWA shelters are located and where the majority of the Gaza population lives. Yesterday, over the course of 270 minutes between 08:00hrs to 12:30hrs, 6 air-to-ground missiles were reportedly fired into Gaza City’s streets, at a cemetery and at a car, reportedly killing 11 Palestinians including 3 children. 
  • In response to this unprecedented escalation, UNRWA is essentially providing support to the entire population of the Gaza Strip. UNRWA health centers are open to all persons in need, shelters are open for all civilians in search of a safe haven, food aid is distributed to over 1.7 million people in partnership with WFP, and the displaced in UNRWA and government shelters are provided with assistance. It is thanks to UNRWA, its partners, and the financial aid and support extended to the Agency, that Gaza has not seen a large scale outbreak of communicable diseases or a worse crisis. The people we serve and aid workers, starting from the ambulance drivers to the shelter managers, are trapped in Gaza and are physically and emotionally exhausted. Staff movements are limited to a bare minimum as nothing and nobody is safe. The operational success of UNRWA is nothing to be proud of; rather it is a necessity brought about by the failure to find a political solution. For every humanitarian challenge the Agency overcomes, new challenges emerge. For example, should there be a need to move parts of the IDP population to emergency shelters in the East of the Gaza Strip (former buffer zone) due to continued aerial bombardment in the West of the Gaza Strip (outside the former buffer zone), the Agency will have to look once again into securing water supply for the new shelters. Currently, all of UNRWA’s designated emergency shelters are connected to water wells or the municipality network, or both, and 495 water tanks were installed by UNRWA to improve storage capacity and water supply, as municipal water is supplied only for a few hours per week. New contractors will need to be found to truck water, which would be a challenge particularly in the North.  
  • In a statement yesterday, Scott Anderson, Deputy Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, reiterated that the support and protection of all people in Gaza remains the Agency’s number one priority. He said: “We are very concerned about the sharp escalation of violence over the past two days, and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure displaced women, men and children have adequate shelter, and that every family in Gaza has access to sufficient food, water and other vital supplies.” UNRWA reiterates the United Nations Secretary General’s grave disappointment at the return to hostilities and calls for an end to the conflict. “The human impact of this war is unacceptable and the devastation unprecedented,” said Mr. Anderson. “We call on all parties to cease hostilities immediately and end the bloodshed.”
  • As of last night, 279,389 IDPs were seeking refuge in the UN schools. The Agency is providing assistance to almost 314,000 IDPs staying in UNRWA schools and in 7 government shelters. Whilst schools provide a quick solution for emergency accommodation for a period of days, schools are not suitable as a long term shelter solution. Before the conflict, UNRWA, based on historical patterns, anticipated some 35,000 to 50,000 displaced people in its installations for a couple of days should there be a military escalation. The current number of IDPs represents 6.28 times the maximum number of 50,000 displaced foreseen in UNRWA’s contingency plan. The duration of the escalation and the current number of IDPs in UNRWA shelters is unprecedented in the Agency’s 64 years history in Gaza. 
  • As the IDP numbers are steadily increasing with no imminent prospects of a sustainable ceasefire, UNRWA will undertake a third (and hopefully final) revision of its humanitarian flash appeal for a planning scenario with an increased number of IDPs in UNRWA shelters and in government facilities to be assisted for a longer period of time. 
  • The Agency is also working on a response plan for Gaza which will address current and medium term needs over the next 24 months. With ongoing hostilities, including in areas previously less affected by the war, assessments and early recovery planning cannot proceed. For example, UNRWA completed an assessment of damage to its installations outside the former buffer zone, pending UXO clearance of its installations in the former buffer zone. With continued shelling, UXO clearance and assessments are basically set back to the start and require completion again. The explosive remnants of war training for field staff prior to assessments taking place was put on hold upon resumption of hostilities. Engineers cannot go out to shelters to assess the damage; hence the Agency cannot quantify how many refugees have lost their homes. Currently, UNRWA estimates 16 UNRWA schools will serve as long term emergency shelters across the Gaza Strip.  
  • Half of all UNRWA school buildings are sheltering displaced. Children have a right to education and particularly during times of war, structure and a sense of routine are crucial to their physical and mental well-being. There will be no regular school year starting this Sunday 24 August. Based on international practice, the Agency will proceed with alternative education modalities amidst the hostilities. UNRWA will make use of the Agency’s TV channel, of the computer labs in the schools, of the existing self study material which has been successfully used in the Syria crisis context, and will prioritize psychosocial support to children. 
  • UNRWA continues to call for accountability and is looking into possible violations of International Law during the conduct of hostilities, in particular violations concerning UNRWA and its staff, including attacks affecting designated emergency shelters. Under International Law, all parties are obliged to respect the inviolability of the premises of the United Nations and to ensure the protection and security of the personnel, installations and property of UNRWA. As such all parties are required to take all necessary actions and precautions to prevent any damage to UN facilities or threats to the safety of UN, including UNRWA personnel. All UNRWA installations are marked as such and fly a UN flag on the roof.  Furthermore, the IDF are given the coordinates of all UN facilities.  UNRWA personnel are continuously present at all UNRWA Installations unless military activity has forced personnel to relocate for safety and security reasons.  Strict procedures are in place to ensure that UNRWA installations are only used for UN purposes by civilians. UNRWA continues to notify the Israeli Ministry of Defense of the UNRWA installations serving as emergency shelters on a regular basis.
  • Data on damage to UNRWA installations is based on preliminary information and is subject to change based on further verification. Over the course of the conflict, UNRWA estimates that 109 installations have been damaged since 8 July 2014, the majority schools (79 out of 156 school buildings), including those serving as emergency shelters. 

General

Past 24 hours: Various media outlets reported that, with the resumption of hostilities and the failure of the Cairo talks, Germany, the United Kingdom and France are pursuing a UN resolution, seeking the return of Gaza to Palestinian Authority control, the lifting of the blockade, international presence in the Gaza Strip and restart of peace talks based on the 1967 borders.

UNRWA Response

  • UNRWA, in cooperation with partners and donors, continued daily water distributions to the shelters. 902 cubic meters of potable water were trucked, excluding the quantities supplied through bottled water. Despite the increase in IDP numbers, UNRWA was able to reach an average of 3.4 litres of potable water per person per day but further displacement poses challenges in meeting minimum needs. In addition to drinking water, 934 cubic metres of non-potable water were trucked by UNRWA, municipalities and contractors to the shelters. All designated emergency shelters are connected to the municipality network, to a well, or to both but supply of water is way below demand. To improve capacity of water storage in the schools, UNRWA installed 495 water tanks in the shelters since the beginning of the conflict. 
  • The water and hygiene campaign is ongoing, with 129 IDP committees (including at minimum 2 women, 2 men and 4 youth of which two girls and two boys) established with overall 1,241 members. Hygiene focal points, funded by the Agency’s Job Creation Programme have also organized 518 awareness sessions among IDPs, focusing on cleanliness, usage of cleaning materials, best practices in water use, on food storage to avoid contamination and treatment of lice and scabies. To date, 23,965 IDPs have participated in sessions. Despite substantive improvements regarding hygiene and cleanliness in the shelters, maintaining adequate hygiene and cleanliness in the overcrowded schools remains a challenge. The mobility of IDPs, particularly during the various ceasefires with displaced moving in and out of shelters, posed challenges to establishing permanent hygiene committees in the shelters. 
  • All 417 mothers with their new born babies in the shelters have received maternity packages.
  • In partnership with WFP and the Ministry of Social Affairs, UNRWA continued the exceptional food distribution to all families not currently receiving regular food aid from the two agencies. Since 11 August 89,303 of the eligible 143,000 families received a 30kg ration of flour and a 10kg ration of rice, corresponding to 62.3 per cent of all eligible families. A total of 3,999 rations were distributed yesterday in 7 out of UNRWA’s 12 distribution centers. The daily rations distributed are below the initial plan due to the military escalation.
  • UNRWA delivered 24 truckloads of non food items (including blankets, sleeping mats, family hygiene kits, diapers, cleaning supplies, and personal hygiene items including toilet paper and soap) as well as 39 truckloads of food to shelters in cooperation with WFP. 
  • UNRWA’s regular food distribution to a total caseload of over 830,000 beneficiaries continued. Food rations were provided to 2,177 families. 
  • Of UNRWA’s Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Department, 280 staff, representing 83 per cent of the permanent sanitation staff, reported to work. Together with 377 Palestinians employed under the Job Creation Programme (JCP), they removed a total of 333 tonnes of waste from all Gaza camps. UNRWA maintenance staff continue to undertake critical repair work in UNRWA installations.
  • 14 of 21 health centers were operating. 78 per cent of the staff reported to work, and 14,429 patients were served on 21 August. Thanks to the deployment of dedicated health teams in the shelters, the number of IDPs coming to the health centers is overall decreasing. The health teams are also working towards strengthening support to people with disabilities, aiming at improved access to primary health care and secondary health care through referrals, and at improved social services through CBOs. 

Summary of Major Incidents

Reportedly, there were 51 rockets and 92 mortar shells fired towards Israel. There were also reports that 83 air-to-ground missiles were fired into Gaza in addition to 30 navy shells. 131 tank shells were fired from the fence into populated areas. Reportedly, 13 houses were bombarded.

UNRWA Installations

Data on damage to UNRWA installations is based on preliminary information and subject to change based on further verification. UNRWA estimates that 109 installations have been damaged since 8 July 2014.

Funding Needs

More information on the revised flash appeal can be found here.

Crossings

  • The Rafah crossing was open. 
  • The Erez crossing was open for internationals and humanitarian cases. 
  • The Kerem Shalom crossing was open. 

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