25 November – 02 December | Issue 72
- The reporting period was marked by extreme weather as the rainy winter season arrived in Gaza. On 27 November, UNRWA declared an Emergency in Gaza City after severe flooding over a 48 hour period. No casualties or injuries were reported, however hundreds of residents in the flooded areas around the Sheikh Radwan storm water lagoon evacuated their homes. As the largest UN agency in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA utilized its procurement and logistical capacity to supply emergency fuel to municipalities, water, sanitation and health facilities, partially through the WASH and Health clusters (led by UNICEF and WHO). On the day of the emergency declaration, UNRWA provided 60,000 litres emergency fuel supplies to run back-up generators of pumping stations and portable pumps. UNRWA also provided mattresses and blankets to some 200 internally displaced persons in the North of Gaza, taking shelter in a non-UNRWA school. As a precautionary measure, 63 schools in Gaza City and 43 in the North Area were closed for the afternoon shift on 27 November. One UNRWA Collective Centre and an UNRWA school in Gaza City were directly affected by the rising waters. UNRWA remained in close consultation with all of its partners, the Palestinian Government and the local municipality who were monitoring the level of rain across the Strip. On 29 November all UNRWA schools resumed operations and due to significantly drier weather, the emergency was cancelled on Sunday, 30 November. The devastation that extreme weather can cause exacerbates the already poor humanitarian situation for refugees and non-refugees in Gaza, which is dealing with the aftermath of a recent conflict, and an acute fuel and energy crisis.
- Shelter assessments and ensuring access to adequate shelter for all Palestine refugee families remains a priority for UNRWA. The Agency estimates a total funding requirement of USD 720 million for transitional shelter cash assistance, reintegration payments, repair and reconstruction of Palestine refugee homes in Gaza that were damaged or destroyed as a result of the summer conflict. If the Government-lead Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) is fully operational, the ceasefire continues to hold and funds are available, it is expected that it will take three years to complete self-help re-construction and repair of Palestine refugee homes damaged in the July-August conflict.
- To date, UNRWA’s engineering personnel have assessed more than 80,000 of the over 90,000 Palestine refugee dwellings damaged or destroyed during the recent Gaza conflict, affecting an estimated 102,000 families or over 550,000 individuals. To date, over USD 22 million in payments were made to more than 20,000 families found eligible for UNRWA shelter packages. An additional 25,000 payments are already in process and payments will continue to be made as quickly as possible. The over USD 22 million includes payments for repairs to over 18,000 refugee families and transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA) and reintegration payments to about 2,000 refugee families. To date, details of 2,114 damaged Palestine refugee homes which require construction material not available on the local market were shared with the Ministry of Public Works for their action through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). UNRWA plays no other role in the GRM.
- On 26 November, an exhibition of the fourth annual European Union-supported UNRWA youth photography competition was opened in Gaza. The winners were announced at a press event, where the European Union representative to the West Bank and Gaza, Mr John Gatt-Rutter and UNRWA’s Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr Robert Turner, formally opened the regional exhibition. The theme for the 2014 competition, ‘I Am Not a Statistic’, called on participants to capture the stories and emotions of the people behind news headlines, making personal the lists of Palestinians killed, wounded and displaced by conflicts throughout the region. The annual competition is open to all Palestine refugees aged 16-29. In a joint EU-UNRWA press announcement issued on the day, Mr Turner noted the significance of the building in which the photos were displayed and the human impact behind emergency statistics: “The venue of the exhibition, the UNRWA Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Impaired, sheltered displaced women, men and children from the terrible 50 day conflict that ended exactly three months ago. To those people I particularly reiterate: you are not a statistic. The photo exhibition not only highlights the vast talent, creativity and innovation amongst young Palestine refugees, but also serves as a reminder that behind every number we quote on the recent war in Gaza is a human being with hopes, dreams, aspirations and the desire for a decent life.” The exhibition was on display until 1 December in Gaza. Two photo competition winners are from Gaza – the third prize and the people’s choice winner.
- Several activities were held throughout the reporting period to mark the United Nations International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which is observed annually on 29 November. The Day marks the date in 1947 when the General Assembly adopted a resolution partitioning then-mandated Palestine into two States, one Jewish and one Arab. On 24 November a special meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was held at UN Headquarters in New York to mark the observance of the International Day. In a statement made during the meeting, Pierre Krähenbühl Commissioner-General of UNRWA, reiterated the imperative need for recovery in Gaza. “While we welcome the efforts being made to facilitate entry of building materials into Gaza which have led to some initial positive results, the reconstruction process needs to be speeded up otherwise we will reach the winter with little progress in repairing and rebuilding the homes of the persons still displaced, including those residing in UNRWA schools. The people of Gaza deserve much better than this.” The Commissioner-General also spoke about the important role that the international community must play in supporting the Government of National Consensus to be empowered to assume all its governance responsibilities in Gaza. Also in support of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, on Monday of last week, the Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, opened UNRWA’s exhibition, “The Long Journey” which is now on display in the lobby of the UN HQ building in New York. On 3 December, an iconic image from UNRWA’s newly digitized archive will be displayed on buildings in eight cities across the world: Bangkok, Beirut, Dubai, Jakarta, Seville, New York, Tokyo and Vienna. As part of this campaign, a huge image of an UNRWA student dating from 1983 will be emblazoned for six hours on the UNHQ building.
- 18 UNRWA school buildings continue to serve as Collective Centres for 19,616 IDPs. Under the responsibility of the UNRWA Collective Centre Management Unit (CCMU), UNRWA continues to provide for the essential needs of the displaced, including food (51,972 rations over the reporting period, with WFP continuing to provide bread, milk and beans), potable water (4 litres per person per day), non-potable water, psychosocial support and participatory hygiene campaigns to promote a healthy living environment in the Collective Centres (CCs). As part of its winterization plans, the distribution of mattresses, solar lights, blankets and mats took place in the four CCs operating in Gaza, reaching almost 1,500 families.
- During the reporting period, the CCMU arranged an awareness raising workshop in Al Zaiton Elem. Boys CC for IDPs, regarding gender–based violence – recognizing it, preventing it and what to do if you encounter it. This workshop was held on 25 November, in observance of the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Operational environment: With winter and the rainy season having commenced, the population in Gaza is increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of reconstruction through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism. There continue to be demonstrations and sit-ins demanding UNRWA and other UN Agencies accelerate reconstruction efforts. The security situation continues to deteriorate with police remaining unpaid and unmotivated to attend work. The general atmosphere in Gaza remains tense.
Winter aggravates family living conditions in UNRWA Collective Centre
Mustafa Al Sharif is a Palestinian refugee from Um Al Nasser village in Beit Lahiya, in the north of Gaza. In mid-July 2014, 52 year-old Mustafa, his wife Subhiya and their seven children had to evacuate their home after it was severely damaged during the conflict. Mustafa and Subhiya took refuge at an UNRWA shelter in Beach Camp, with their five daughters and two sons, aged 14 to 23.
Mustafa explains: “Our house was damaged and we escaped during shelling to my brother’s house in Beach Camp; then we took refuge at an UNRWA School.”
At the beginning of September 2014, the family moved to an UNRWA Collective Centre at Beach Elementary Boys School “C”. On top of losing their home and trying to rebuild a life for the family, Mustafa and Subhiya are facing difficult financial conditions.
Mustafa is not well enough to work, and the family has been predominately reliant on what UNRWA is providing to them to survive.
”UNRWA has been doing its best to ease our life in the shelter and Collective Centre, including providing meals, psychosocial support, health services, hygiene kits, blankets and mattresses.”
One of Mustafa and Subhiya’s sons, Hasan, has taken a role under UNRWA’s Job Creation Program at the Collective Centre. This has helped the family to make ends meet. Additionally, Subhiya has been able to continue hand sewing, which brings in a small income for the family. Before the conflict, Subhiya was earning about USD 100 per month, but she is now only getting half that amount.
“I make use of my hand-sewing skills to tailor some traditional clothes during my stay at the Collective Centre. This helps me earn about USD 50 a month so that I can provide medicine to my sick husband,” said Subhiya. “Life here is difficult. Winter is worsening our conditions, despite the support and aid we receive… we really hope to move out soon to a temporary shelter and then to our reconstructed home.”
UNRWA’s social workers and engineers have assessed Mustafa and Subhiya’s home and found it uninhabitable. The family is entitled to an UNRWA temporary shelter assistance package. “The family will utilize the shelter assistance package by moving into a transitional shelter we can rent until our home is rebuilt,” said Subhiya.
Summarizing her family’s hopes for the future, Subhiya also reflects on her own: "I wish I could have my home rebuilt and I wish for an end of the blockade. I want to be able to start a project for sewing clothes. I wish for new life!”
Summary of Major Incidents
During the reporting week, there were incidences of the IDF opening fire towards Palestinians in Khan Younis, Rafah, Beit Lahia, Bureij and Jabalia. On 27 November in Bureij, militants opened fire towards an IDF jeep at the border, and IDF troops responded with one shell. A Palestinian farmer was killed by IDF fire during the week prior. Several incidences of Israeli patrol boats opening fire towards Palestinian boats were reported during the week.
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).
- For the first time since the Rafah crossing closed on 25 October, it was opened in one direction only between 26-27 November and 30 November to 2 December, for Palestinians stranded in Egypt to return to Gaza. It remained closed on 25, 28 and 29 November.
- Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 25-27 November and from 30 November to 2 December. On 28 November the crossing was open for pedestrians only. On 29 November, the crossing was closed.
- Kerem Shalom was open from 25-28 November, and between 30 November and 2 December. The crossing was closed on 29 November.