16 December – 13 January | Issue 75
- In Gaza, a sense of political disillusionment prevails and there is nothing in sight that would have a positive psychological impact on the people. The biggest challenge for UNRWA remains uncertainty regarding the political future, the security environment and the financial support extended to the Agency to allow for the continuation of the shelter self-help program. Whilst UNRWA completed the shelter assessment in a record time on 15 December 2014 and already expended over USD 77.8 million on shelter cash assistance, the pace and scale of reconstruction is not quick enough for those living in damaged, wet and cold dwellings. Unless additional funding for cash assistance is received, the program will cease by the end of January 2015. The impact of UNRWA ceasing payments to affected families in winter would be dramatic. The Agency would have to stop paying transitional shelter cash assistance to support families in temporary housing solutions, and would also have to stop providing cash assistance to allow families to repair their homes.
- The first two weeks of January saw extreme weather affect the Gaza Strip, with Storm Huda starting to be felt on the afternoon of 6 January. Winter temperatures dropped to 7-8 degrees Celsius during the day and media reports indicate at least five deaths during this period – two of which were confirmed as being due to the cold and lack of adequate shelter. 23 families, or 151 internally displaced persons (IDPs), relocated to UNRWA Collective Centres (CCs) after their war damaged homes were affected by the severe wind and rain. There have also been reports related to deaths caused by candles (due to lack of electricity) or short circuits. The Gaza Power Plant shut down on 28 December 2014 due to lack of financial means to buy fuel, but has now started operating again. Electricity is provided on the usual 6-8 hours schedule per day. Additional non food items have been prepositioned in all CCs to respond to any further emergency needs arising from the haphazard weather.
- To date, over USD 77.6 million in payments have been made to families found eligible for UNRWA shelter packages. The payments include those for repairs to over 59,000 refugee families (USD 67 million), as well as transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA, covering until end of December 2014) and reintegration payments to refugee families with uninhabitable or destroyed homes (USD 10.6 million). Over 96,000 Palestine refugee dwellings – more than twice as many homes in Gaza as initially estimated – were damaged or destroyed during this summer’s conflict, according to the technical assessment completed by UNRWA on 15 December. The Agency extended a one week window between 21-25 December, for those refugee families who were not visited by a social worker but who consider themselves eligible to apply for an assessment. It is expected that the number of effected homes will rise to over 100,000 when the appeal process concludes. UNRWA estimates a total funding requirement of USD 720 million for transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA), reintegration payments, repair and reconstruction of Palestine refugee homes in Gaza that were damaged or destroyed as a result of the summer conflict. This figure is likely to go up following completion of the appeal review. To date, only some USD 135 million has been pledged, leaving a funding gap of USD 585 million.
- To date, details of more than 50,000 damaged Palestine refugee homes which require repair and 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). The families identified for repair requiring restricted ‘dual use materials’ are approved through a coordinated database owned by the Government of National Consensus. Once reviewed and confirmed through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, families access the specific quantities of restricted ‘dual use materials’. The vendors for the restricted materials are vetted and meet strict stock management and asset protection requirements. The list of family names of those eligible to access construction material has been made available by the Ministry at the following link: http://www.mpwh.ps/. Based on data provided to UNRWA, only 6,370 Palestine refugee families have received imported materials through the GRM. As for the self-help shelter repair cash payment process to affected families, UNRWA differentiates between minor repairs (up to USD 5,000) and major repairs (more than USD 5,000). Minor repairs up to USD 2,500 are paid in one installment subsequent to the UNRWA technical assessment. Minor repairs between USD 2,500 – USD 5,000 are paid in two installments, with the second installment paid subsequent to a monitoring visit by UNRWA engineers. Major repairs over USD 5,000 are paid in at least three tranches, with UNRWA engineers assessing progress to effectuate the payment of the next tranche. To date, UNRWA only provides cash assistance for shelter repair as a GRM mechanism that would allow for shelter reconstruction remains to be agreed. Funding for shelter reconstruction has already been pledged.
- As an innovative measure to provide shelter to more families, UNRWA has commenced a pilot building project that involves completing partially finished dwellings. Unfinished building owners select the renting families and UNRWA provides a contribution to the rehabilitation of the homes. The initiative serves to increase the current stock of housing units in Gaza, as well as reducing the number of IDP families remaining inside Collective Centres and tented camps. It is also designed to reduce the financial pressure on families hosting IDPs. The initial pilot is close to completion and has involved ten buildings and ten families. Based on initial success, it is hoped that the project can be expanded, subject to additional funding.
- Over the past week, two high level delegations visited the Gaza Strip and were hosted at UNRWA installations. The Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, H.E José Manuel García-Margallo, visited Gaza on 13 January, to see firsthand the situation following last summer’s conflict and to hear about the long-term humanitarian and political support required to help families in Gaza recover and rebuild. He also was interested to see the impact that Spanish contributions are having on the people in the Strip. This is the first visit by a Spanish Foreign Minister to Gaza since 2005. Thanking Spain for its continued commitment and support to Palestine refugees in Gaza, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said: “We are grateful for the support from Spain and appreciate the Minister’s visit to the region. Continued political attention, financial contributions and focus on Gaza in these critical winter months are essential in helping families to rebuild their lives. Sustainable recovery in Gaza will. however, also require all of us to look beyond the immediate challenges. Lifting the blockade and addressing Gaza’s many other obstacles are key elements to strengthening dignity and attaining self-sufficiency for women, men and children here.” On 12 January, German Federal Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, H.E. Mr. Christoph Strässer, and delegation visited an UNRWA Collective Centre, where they met IDPs and heard more about the situation in Gaza since the summer conflict. Both Spain and Germany are important UNRWA partners.
- UNRWA school buildings continue to serve as Collective Centres (CCs) for 14,422 IDPs. Under the responsibility of the UNRWA Collective Centre Management Unit (CCMU), UNRWA continues to provide for the essential needs of the displaced in CCs across the Gaza Strip. Through its CCs, UNRWA continued to provide food and potable water (4 litres per person per day), non-potable water, non-food items, psychosocial support and participatory hygiene campaigns to promote a healthy living environment in the CCs. Over the past week, 20 IDP hygiene committees with approximate 120 members were active, and 1,700 IDPs participated in hygiene campaigns and were trained on issues such as cleanliness, usage of cleaning materials, best practices in water management and how to avoid hygiene related diseases. Health promotion sessions were reinforced due to the stormy weather – a total of 40 awareness raising sessions were held and over 1,500 IDPs were trained on protecting themselves from flu and other common illnesses in winter. The sessions were particularly focused on the elderly, children and pregnant women. UNRWA’s CC hygiene teams also organized recreational and support activities related to hygiene practices for 2,500 children.
- UNRWA has now completed its assessment of the number of Palestine refugees injured throughout the July-August conflict. Of a total of 5,837 refugees injured, 1,554 were children and 1,200 were women.
Operational environment: Uncertainty regarding the political future and the security environment in Gaza remain major challenges for UNRWA and the refugees the Agency serves. Whilst reconstruction is an urgent priority, sustainable recovery of Gaza requires far more than rebuilding what has been destroyed. Lifting the blockade and addressing Gaza’s structural challenges and increasing needs are the basis for a re-development process. The escalation of hostilities may have ceased for now, but the blockade of Gaza continues to impact all aspects of daily Palestinian life and corrodes the enjoyment of most human rights.
Life as a refugee in Gaza: “We had nothing except for the clothes we were wearing”
Hani Uliwa’s deadpan eyes move slowly across the cement rubble that was once his family’s living room. His movements are stilted. His greying skin wears the battered scars of a troubled life. A deep sigh is released before the 44 year-old begins to explain what life has been like living as a refugee in the Gaza Strip.
Obligated to cut short his education to support his father’s family, Hani’s working life started at 17 years of age labouring construction in Israel. But in 2000 (second Intifada), he was forced back to Gaza where the only paid employment he could find was setting himself up as a taxi driver, using his savings to buy a car.
”I used to earn a monthly income of US $1,200 when I worked as a labourer but then earned US $200 as a taxi driver. This drastic decrease in income made it very hard for me to make ends meet,” he said. And there are many mouths reliant on Hani. In 1990, at age 20, he was married. He now has eight sons and one daughter aged between five and 24.
Of their life, Muna, his 40 year-old wife said: “Life is very difficult in Gaza - mainly following the demolition of our home during the recent conflict. Fortunately, my family managed to survive the heavy bombing in Toufah Area, Gaza City, and took refuge at Al Yarmouk area. First, seven days at my brother in law’s home, then at an UNRWA shelter in Beach Camp. Finally, at an UNRWA Collective Centre at Zaitoun Prep Girls School.”
“When we arrived at the Collective Centre, we had nothing except for the clothes we were wearing. We received mattresses and blankets, some clothing and other basic supplies.”
In early November 2014, after shelter assessments declared their home destroyed, the family received US$ 1,500 from UNRWA – US $1,000 transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA) and a US $500 reintegration package.
“We managed to rent a flat close to our demolished home and we bought a washing machine and kitchen kits to have minimum requirements for living in the new apartment,” Muna said.
Since the deadly summer conflict broke out in July 2014, the family has remained reliant on UNRWA’s services to meet their basic needs. This includes utilizing UNRWA food, health, education and social service support. A program that has spiraled from supporting 80,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza in 2000, to over 867,000 registered beneficiaries since 2014.
With the seven-year Israeli-imposed blockade crippling local industry and means to make a living, the Uliwa family now depend exclusively on UNRWA’s food assistance program for daily food needs. Hani’s modest self-employment as a taxi driver was cut short when his car was destroyed in the summer conflict, however he has been able to secure employment working as a bus driver for a private school and earns US $120 per month. Thousands of others in Gaza are not so lucky.
According to PCBS data, and prior to the summer hostilities, Gaza’s unemployment rate surged to a record high 44.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2014. Almost half of all refugees are unemployed (45.5 per cent) the highest level ever reported in UNRWA’s PCBS-based records.
As for day to day life, Hani wastes little time explaining how precarious the situation has become for his family. “Electricity is a concern for everyone in Gaza. It poses additional challenge to our weary family, I am unable to warm my children in this urgent and hard winter; my children need electricity to study, and it is very hard living conditions without electricity.”
Despite these hardships, Hani’s wife Muna said she is trying to remain optimistic for the sake of her children. “The only dream I have now is to see my home rebuilt and to move to a normal life again, with a permanent job for my husband,” she said.
Summary of Major Incidents
During the reporting period, there were numerous incidences of the IDF opening fire towards Palestinians near the fence and of Israeli navy fire at Palestinian boats. In one incident on 3 January, Israeli patrol boats opened fire towards Palestinian boats - one boat was burnt and one Palestinian injured. The reporting period also indicated the firing of several test rockets from Gaza into the sea – on 17, 20, 21, 26 and 29 December, and also on 6, 10 and 11 January. On 19 December, militants fired two rockets towards Israel; one dropped short and the other landed in an open area in Eshkol Regional Council and no injuries or damage was reported. On 20 December, the Israeli Air Force fired three missiles targeting a Hamas training facility. Minor damage was reported at Al Qarara UNRWA Boys School. No injuries were reported. On 24 December, an exchange of fire took place between Palestinian militants and IDF troops positioned at the border east of Khuza’a area. One militant was killed and one was injured. This is the first such incident involving militants since the end of the summer hostilities. On 28 December, two IDF bulldozers entered approximately 150 metres from the border into Sofa area, northeast of Rafah City, in the south of Gaza. IDF troops conducted a clearing operation before withdrawal to the border. On 2 January, four Palestinians crossed illegally into Sinai opposite Salah El Din gate – Egyptian border troops opened fire and arrested three of them, while the fourth one was injured and later passed away.
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 (English PDF) and here in Arabic (PDF).
On 9 December, UNRWA launched the oPt Emergency Appeal in Geneva. For its emergency operations in Gaza, the Agency is seeking USD 366.6 million, including USD 127 million for emergency shelter, repair and collective centre management, USD 105.6 million for emergency food assistance, and USD 68.6 million for emergency cash-for-work. More information can be found here (PDF).
- The Rafah crossing remained closed between 16-20 December. It was open on 21 and 23 December, closed on 22 December and remained closed between 24 December and 13 January.
- During some of the reporting period, Erez crossing operated limited vehicle lane hours, recommencing standard hours again from 12 January. The crossing was open between 16-18 December, open for pedestrians only on 19 December, and closed on 20 December. It opened again between 21-25 December and on 28 December. It was also open from 31 December to 1 January, from 4-5 January and between 6-11 January. On 26 December and 2 January the crossing was open for pedestrians only, whilst on 27 December and 3 January it was closed. On 8 January, a dispute erupted between de facto police at Arba Arba and the PA liaison and coordination office at Hamsa Hamsa at Erez Checkpoint. Accordingly, work was disrupted at Erez checkpoint for people departing Gaza to Israel.
- Kerem Shalom was open during the reporting period, aside from 19-20 December, 26-27 December and 2-3 January.