28 October – 04 November | Issue 68
- 18 UNRWA school buildings continue to serve as Collective Centres for approximately 30,073 internally displaced persons (IDPs).
- Both Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings – Gaza’s main people and commercial crossings respectively – were closed by Israel. This action effectively “sealed off” the Strip between Sunday and Tuesday, when the Israeli crossings were reopened. According to UN OCHA, the measure was announced in response to the shooting of a projectile into southern Israel on Friday 31 October, which reportedly resulted in no casualties or property damage.
- The Egyptian authorities’ closed the Rafah Crossing on 24 October, following an attack in the northern Egyptian City of Al Arish by unknown perpetrators, which claimed the lives of more than 30 Egyptian military personnel. According to UN OCHA, thousands of travelers were stranded in Gaza waiting to leave to the West Bank, Egypt and other destinations.
- The situation in Gaza remains unstable and uncertain. The National Consensus Government (NCG) formed on 2 June has yet to commence effective governance of the Strip, raising concerns about future political stability, a precondition for reconstruction. One positive step over the past week has been payments made to former de facto government civilian employees – the majority of whom have not received a full salary for over a year. Reportedly, approximately 24,000 people received what was described by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as a one-time “humanitarian payment”. The amount is reported to be approximately USD 1,200 to each employee with funds provided by the Government of Qatar and the Emir, His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.
- Repair and reconstruction of Palestinian homes remains the most urgent need, particularly with winter approaching. Whist it is understood that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM), a temporary measure agreed between the governments of Palestine and Israel, offers a positive way forward, the overall pace of reconstruction must accelerate. Current estimates suggest that shelter reconstruction would take two to three years if conditions allow, including political stability, technical capacities for crossings and equipment, the smooth functioning of the GRM and adequate financial resources. After the first construction material under the GRM entered Gaza on 14 October for the private sector, an announcement was made on 28 October by the Palestinian Ministry of Public Works and Housing (MPWH) regarding building material for private homes. According to the announcement, the MPWH has commenced distributing the required amounts of cement to assessed eligible families whose houses were partially destroyed during the recent conflict in Gaza. The note also explains that the Ministry’s website includes a list of names of those families who are part of the first group of recipients, requesting that they visit one of the Ministry’s directorates from 30 October. The message indicated that these families would receive a voucher showing the amount of cement that they are entitled to based on the damage assessment.
- On 4 November, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, issued a statement that confirmed the temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism had commenced its operations, giving priority focus on making available reconstruction material for urgent shelter repairs. According to the statement, as of Monday evening 3 November, some 700 beneficiaries were able to purchase much needed construction material in order to start the rehabilitation of their homes. As stated by the Special Coordinator, “with the mechanism becoming operational, it is all the more important for donors to honor their pledges at the Cairo conference to fund much needed infrastructure projects and to address the urgent electricity and water needs for Gaza. For reconstruction to be implemented at the required pace, the Government of National Consensus must also be empowered to assume its rightful responsibilities in Gaza.” The Special Coordinator also called on all parties concerned to cooperate and urgently address important issues, such as the transfer of full control over the crossings to the Government and conducting in good faith civil service reform, including in the security sector.
- The most critical interventions for UNRWA’s strategic response remain shelter repair, transitional shelter support and reconstruction, for which over USD 790 million cash support for shelter self-help is required. Transitional cash shelter assistance (TSCA) is the first priority for those Palestine refugees whose houses were completely destroyed or severely damaged (uninhabitable), regardless of their current place of refuge. UNRWA estimates that the cost of TSCA per large family for 24 months is approximately USD $6,000 and the Agency is extremely concerned about its ability to fund this programme through 2015. As part of UNRWA’s damage assessments work to determine assistance package eligibility, UNRWA social workers have visited almost all damaged homes, covering an additional 3,728 homes since 28 October. UNRWA’s construction and engineering personnel have so far assessed approximately 52,000 of the estimated 90,000 refugee homes that were impacted during the recent hostilities. This figure is more than double the preliminary Shelter Cluster estimates.
- During the reporting period, an environmental campaign was initiated in UNRWA Collective Centres. This involved the IDPs learning about vegetation and the environment, and planting trees and other flora inside the Collective Centres. Staff also continued with other support activities for IDPs, including specialized sessions on health awareness.
- 538 Palestinian children are confirmed killed during the 50 day war – 339 boys and 199 girls – according to the continued collection of preliminary data by the Protection Cluster from various sources. The Cluster reports the cumulative death toll among Palestinians as at least 2,256, including 306 women. It is reported that the cumulative Israeli fatality toll is 71, of whom 66 were soldiers and one civilian fatality was a child.
Operational environment: The general atmosphere in Gaza is one of anticipation but also frustration, with an unstable political environment and no set timeframe around reconstruction. Families are keen to rebuild their lives but are also looking to the Government for solutions to the underlying causes of the most recent conflict. UNRWA’s operational focus over the past week was on Collective Centre management, vulnerability assessment follow ups, school activities, shelter assessments, assistance to those with damaged or uninhabitable homes and regular ongoing support to Palestine refugees in Gaza.
UNRWA health teams contributes vital skills during emergency & early recovery response
Helping refugee families in Gaza stay healthy took on a whole new meaning for Dr. Hend Harb during the Strips’ most recent hostilities. As the Senior Medical Officer at Maghazi Health Centre, Dr. Hend was seconded to UNRWA’s Central Operations Room as the lead health program focal point on the emergency response.
For almost three months, Dr Hend was responsible for communications and facilitation between five area medical focal points who worked as a team to ensure the best health care was provided to internally displaced persons (IDPs) sheltering at UNRWA’s schools. At its peak, UNRWA hosted almost 300,000 IDPs in 90 schools.
Medical teams consisting of a doctor, a nurse and a health educator were deployed to each shelter. “The main challenge was ensuring that shelters were kept as clean and healthy as possible, to avoid an outbreak of disease, as well as getting medicine to people on time,” Dr Hend said. “Despite a delay in some medications arriving and the very difficult conditions in overcrowded shelters, thankfully we were able to contain any minor diseases as they happened.”
The situation of IDPs in Gaza was especially familiar to Dr Hend as she herself had family members who were displaced during the conflict. Her mother, brother, sister-in-law and their children were living in north Gaza near the eastern border when they had to evacuate their home in July. She then hosted them in the home she shares with her husband and four children.
Dr Hend recalls one particularly difficult evening for the family, when she had returned home after a long day working and was waiting to get into the elevator to reach her apartment. “Suddenly, the ground shook and rubble flew everywhere outside. I heard people screaming and soon learned that the roof at the top of the building had been hit and that people in my building were wounded… I froze and could hardly breathe,” said Dr Hend.
“In the next moment I saw people running down the stairs and among them was my family, all safe. Fortunately no damage was inflicted on our apartment,” she said. Despite protests from her mother and children, Dr. Hend went to work as usual the following day.
“I was determined to serve my people, nothing would deter me from my goal,” she said. “It was very hard to leave my children during such terrible times, but it was my duty and responsibility and I would never shy from fulfilling it."
Dr Hend’s husband, an orthopedic specialist, was very supportive of her work and they even found themselves working together at one point during the conflict. During severe hostilities in the Shujaya neighbourhood of Gaza, many internally displaced families ran from the destruction to the grounds of Shifa Hospital. “I was assigned to assist with relocating these people to UNRWA schools. It was a very tough mission,” said Dr. Hend. Her husband, who worked at the hospital, was able to support the UNRWA team with facilitating the relocation of distraught refugees and non-refugees to designated emergency shelters where they would have a place to sleep and be provided with food, water and basic medical care.
Dr Hend oversaw the transition of the health program from emergency shelters to UNRWA’s Collective Centres program before returning to her regular role with UNRWA on 8 October. She has worked for UNRWA since 2004, having also served at the Health Centre in Beach Camp. After achieving her medical degree in Russia, Dr Hend was employed at a hospital in Khan Younis. Not one to shy away from a challenge, she is studying remotely for a Masters in Health Management from Abu Dis University in Jerusalem.
In her regular job Dr Hend is responsible for the general management of the Health Centre and its staff, as well as communication with the local refugee community.
During the emergency, UNRWA health services were extended to all Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and some 70 percent of UNRWA’s medical staff continued to report to work, including at the height of the hostilities. This was remarkable especially given that on average only 14 of the 21 health centres were functional, with the remaining seven often closed due to insecurity in the area.
“I am proud of myself and of the UNRWA teams I worked with. We faced many challenges together,” said Dr Hend. “I met great UNRWA staff and formed strong ties and bonds with them - they inspired me and I am proud to say that I inspired them too.”
The health sector in Gaza remains devastated and in urgent need of funding and support. A WHO-led joint assessment of health needs and services in Gaza, released last month, indicates that urgent work is needed to rehabilitate the damaged health system and prevent further loss of life.
- Between 28 October and 4 November, UNRWA continued to deliver truckloads of non food items and food to Collective Centres. This food support is provided in cooperation with WFP. UNRWA delivered a total of 72,893 rations during the reporting period.
- UNRWA’s Relief and Social Services Programme (RSSP) continued with follow ups related to its Vulnerability Assessment and Support Initiative (VASI). The initiative is reviewing appropriate support to most vulnerable individuals and their families in UNRWA Collective Centres.
- Since the start of the ceasefire the Water and Hygiene Campaign activities in Collective Centres are ongoing. Since the 28 of October, 201 IDP hygiene committees were active with a total of 1,720 members. The number of participants in the cleaning campaign was 4,432. A total of 277 awareness raising sessions were held and over 6,573 IDPs were trained on issues such as cleanliness, usage of cleaning materials, best practices in water management, how to keep food from being contaminated and how to treat lice and scabies and avoid other hygiene related diseases. The hygiene team also organized recreational and support activities for 3,954 children. The hand washing campaign is ongoing.
- UNRWA, in cooperation with partners and donors, continued daily water distributions to the Collective Centres. During the week of 28 October to 4 November, 759 cubic metres of potable water were trucked, which is equivalent to about 4 litres of drinking water per person per day. 1,446 cubic metres of non-potable water were also trucked by UNRWA, municipalities and contractors to the Collective Centres.
- Between 28 October and 4 November, all 21 UNRWA Health Centres continued to serve refugees. Approximately 84,078 consultations were made with doctors at UNRWA Health Centres during the reporting period.
- UNRWA’s Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) continued to focus on structured recreational activities for UNRWA school students (fun, focused animation and entertainment activities) and psychosocial activities over the past week. A total number of 907 sessions were carried out, engaging approximately 32,506 students. The total number of individual counseling sessions was 1,139, reaching 978 beneficiaries. 501 group sessions were facilitated, with 953 participants. CMHP teams continued to visit to schools to follow up teachers’ implementation of various classroom based psychosocial interventions and to offer general support. Over the reporting period, 617 sessions were held with 1,109 teachers. Support to parents also continues and 422 sessions were facilitated with about 1,759 parents. The CMHP also facilitated counseling sessions through UNRWA Health Centres.
- General maintenance such as waste removal from all of Gaza’s 8 camps continued between 28 October and 4 November.
- During the past week, the 11 water wells in Jabalia Camp (6), Beach Camp (3), Khan Younis Camp (1) and Rafah (1) supplied water to beneficiaries.
- Maintenance and repair works continue on UNRWA installations across the Gaza Strip. This involved plumbing repairs, metal works, carpentry, electrical works and painting.
Summary of Major Incidents
Overnight on 30 October, it is reported that the Israeli navy opened fire towards Palestinian boats west of Khan Younis. No injuries were reported. Overnight on 31 October, one rocket was reportedly fired from east Gaza City towards Israel. No other major incidents were reported between 28 October and 4 November.
The Agency has concluded assessments of its damaged UNRWA installations, with a total of 118. Repair work is ongoing.
UNRWA is seeking USD 1.6 billion for emergency relief, early recovery and reconstruction priorities in the Gaza Strip. More information can be found here (PDF). The same information is available in Arabic here (PDF).
Rafah crossing remains closed since 25 October.
Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 28 October to 30 October, and again on 4 November. On 31 October it was open for medical cases and pedestrians only. On 1 November the crossing was closed. On 2 November it was open for foreigners only. On 3 November Erez was open for humanitarian cases and foreigners.
Kerem Shalom was open from 28 October to 30 October and again on 4 November. It was closed from 31 October to 3 November.