27 January - 03 February | Issue 78
- UNRWA requires US$ 100 million in the first quarter of this year to allow families to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies, including to the thousands of families who left UNRWA-run Collective Centres (CCs) and found alternative rental accommodation. The Agency is gravely concerned that if it cannot restart the provision of rental subsidies and funding for repair, large numbers may return to the CCs. As of 3 February 2015, about 8,000 families are waiting for their first repair instalment (US$ 18.0 million), and about 3,100 families are waiting for their rental subsidies (US$ 3.5 million for 4 months). The international community is currently failing to provide the people of Gaza with the bare minimum. UNRWA’s inability to pay undermines the trust of the community we enjoy, puts our staff – including frontline staff such as social workers and engineers – and our entire operations in Gaza at risk.
- Due to lack of funding, and as warned since the 4th quarter of 2014, UNRWA was forced to suspend its cash assistance programme supporting repairs and providing rental subsidies to Palestine refugee families in Gaza. However, and in response to the suspension, US $13.5 million was generously reallocated from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s emergency shelter construction pledge, to allow UNRWA to provide assistance for home repairs to almost 10,000 families this week. Whilst donors have generally been generous in supporting UNRWA’s emergency programme in Gaza, the repurposed funding does not change the fact that the Agency has received only US$ 135 million in pledges for shelter assistance, leaving a shortfall of US$ 585 million.
- It is assumed that unemployment is further on the rise as a result of the last summer hostilities, with updated figures due to be released this month by the PCBS (Palestinian Bureau of Statistics). However, facing the compounded effects of the continuing blockade and the closure of smuggling tunnels with Egypt, the Gaza economy was already collapsing before the conflict. The unemployment rate surged to 44.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2014, up from 27.9 per cent in the same quarter of 2013, and the refugee unemployment rate reached 45.5 per cent, the highest level ever reported in UNRWA’s PCBS-based records. More than half of the unemployed are between 15 and 24 years old. It should also be noted that PCBS unemployment statistics do not capture under-employment in Gaza. For example, a person working one hour per week is considered employed in the PCBS data.
- In 2014, UNRWA generated 23,419 jobs, including 13,399 area staff, including regular staff, daily employees and service contractors; 4,972 Job Creation Program positions (full-time equivalents, that is full-time jobs not contracts for over 20,000 direct beneficiaries); and over 5,000 direct and indirect jobs through UNRWA’s construction projects. Combined, and based on the latest PCBS second quarter 2014 unemployment figures, these jobs represent 9.4 per cent of all employed workforce in the Gaza Strip (or 13.4 per cent of refugee employment), and contributed to reducing the unemployment rate by 5.2 percentage points, and the refugee unemployment rate by 7.3 per cent.
- One initiative designed to help stimulate the economy in Gaza is UNRWA’s large-scale cash for work Job Creation Program (JCP). This was particularly pivotal in staffing the Agency’s emergency response during recent hostilities. 4,615 contracts were awarded to Palestinians (25 per cent to women) in Gaza to fulfil roles related to emergency and early recovery activities. This not only boosted the response capacity of UNRWA but also provided a much needed income at a time when this was most needed. JCP contracts were awarded for roles in areas as diverse as primary health care; psychosocial support; data collection and registration of IDPs; environmental health; safety and security; maintenance; packaging and distributing of food parcels; and distributing of water and fuel. In 2014, the JCP re-expanded by almost 20 per cent, from 17,053 short term job opportunities in 2013 to 20,545 in 2014, thus benefiting almost 120,000 refugees in Gaza. Through this UNRWA program, USD 18.1 million was injected into the Gazan economy.
- JCP participants work within various hosting institutions, including at health care facilities, community-based organizations, NGOs, UNRWA installations, and in 250 private export-oriented private businesses (garment, food, leather and wood industry). In 2014, the Graduate Training Program (GTP), a subcomponent of the cash-for-work program, provided a first short-term job opportunity for 2,299 of Gaza’s best and brightest university graduates. The interest in receiving a JCP opportunity remains high - as such the waiting list remains long. Based on current funding projections, unskilled females applying to the program wait more than 12 years before receiving a job opportunity.
- The devastated economy made headlines during the reporting period, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a press release with estimates that real GDP in the occupied Palestinian territory fell by nearly 1 per cent, with GDP declining by about 15 per cent in Gaza but rising by 4.5 per cent in the West Bank. The IMF expects medium-term growth to remain modest, as a high degree of uncertainty and political standstill will likely prevent a strong economic recovery in 2015.
- UNRWA’s ongoing construction projects continue to progress, and attached is the monthly Agency update. Highlights in January included the completion of three UNRWA schools in Gaza City, Beit Hanoun and Jabalia, funded by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB). 4,000 refugee students started the second semester of the 2014/15 school year in the new buildings.
- Imports of construction materials by UN Agencies into the Gaza Strip remain subject to a lengthy and cumbersome approval process imposed by Israeli authorities, including the submission of detailed design and bill of quantities. In 2014 alone, UNRWA extra staffing, transit and logistical costs resulting from Israeli requirements on access and monitoring all materials the Agency brings into Gaza – including food, non-food items, construction material – imported through the only open border crossing with Israel, Kerem Shalom, amounted to over US$ 7.5 million. This is equivalent to the cost of building four UNRWA schools in Gaza or distributing food to the current caseload of 868,000 beneficiaries for 5 weeks. The US$ 7.5 million exclude inflation (as projects are delayed prices increase and thus UNRWA is required to either downscale a project or request additional funding from a donor), exclude continued payment of transitional shelter cash assistance to those awaiting a new shelter, and the price UNRWA and its staff are paying vis-à-vis the Agency’s credibility amongst the Gaza community, from beneficiaries to contractors, and amongst the donor community.
- The Representative of India to the State of Palestine, Mr Mahesh Kumar and his delegation visited Gaza during the reporting period. The delegation spent time at an UNRWA Collective Centre in Bahrain Boys Prep School where they met with internally displaced persons (IDPs) to hear personal accounts of the summer conflict and the situation since the ceasefire commenced on 26 August, 2014. The delegation also drove through Shuja'iyya neighborhood, in the north of Gaza, to view first-hand the destruction caused by the 50 days of hostilities in July/August.
- UNRWA remains committed to providing a quality education to children in Gaza. Agency-run schools returned for second semester of the 2014/2015 school year this week. Approximately 250 new teachers have been recruited by UNRWA, to keep pace with growing class numbers. In the year 2000, UNRWA schools averaged 49 students per class. This is now reduced to an average of 38 students. The disbursement of new stationery items for students commenced on 4 February.
- UNRWA continues to provide shelter and basic services to more than 10,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in 15 Agency-run Collective Centres (CCs). A total of 1,600 IDPs in all Collective Centres participated in 60 hygiene campaigns during the reporting period. They were trained on best practices to clean their shelters and promote hygiene principles. In addition, 20 awareness raising sessions on dental hygiene were facilitated. A cultural committee in a CC in Gaza City has formed an English language club to provide displaced students with language lessons. The committee engaged children in the preparation by having them draw and paint the walls of the room where the lessons were to be delivered. Training on recycling was given to the IDPs children at the same school. A reading story session was also implemented during the past week, aimed at encouraging the children in CCs to read more. Training on “creative thinking” with CC staff in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, was also conducted.
Operational environment: There were a number of demonstrations and sit-ins across the Gaza Strip following UNRWA’s announcement of being forced to suspend its self-help cash assistance programme. The demonstrations speak to a larger frustration being felt by families in Gaza, with the pace of reconstruction moving slowly and no significant chance in the political situation. Demonstrations were reported outside ICRC offices as well as UNRWA offices and UNSCO. On 28 January, protestors conducting a sit-in outside of UNSCO offices in Gaza burnt tires and threw stones at the office. Some also broke into the UNSCO compound. Minor damage was reported before the protest was contained. In a statement about the break-in, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Robert Serry, expressed “outrage” at the assault. Further, his statement noted that, “this serious incident took place in the context of increasing incitement against the United Nations in Gaza.” The reporting period also recorded protests by different groups against the blockade. This included school students who had organized a protest east of Khuzaá – one of the most badly damaged areas in Gaza.
UNRWA teachers in Gaza defy odds to deliver standout education
UNRWA teacher Raghda Al Khatib gives an English class at the Zaitoun Elem Co-Ed school in Gaza City
on the first day of second semester, 2014/2015 school year in Gaza
Raghda Al Khatib is early to school for the first day of second semester. As she rearranges the desks in her classroom in anticipation of the arrival of her young students, the UNRWA teacher at Zaitoun Elem co-Ed school “C” in Gaza City, recounts the priorities for the day and her excitement at seeing her pupils again after a one week break.
The 35-year-old Palestine refugee said she knows her students will be pleased when they receive their semester one exam results.
While the pleasure a teacher feels when their students excel may be universal, Raghda and her 8,024 fellow UNRWA teachers across the Gaza Strip are in a situation that is far from mainstream.
A seven year old Palestinian child from Gaza has never left the 365 square kilometre coastal enclave due to the Israeli imposed blockade in place since 2007, and has witnessed three wars. In the summer 2014 hostilities, 542 children were killed and around 3,000 were injured, according to Protection Cluster statistics. Trauma scars the city and its people.
Raghda’s home was one of the over 96,000 houses across Gaza Strip damaged or destroyed in the July/August hostilities. As a single-mother of seven children, it is a loss she could have done without. More than 30 per cent of UNRWA’s school buildings, 83 in total, had structural damage. Ninety percent of the 252 UNRWA schools in Gaza are run on a double shift basis, and some even on triple shift, effectively reducing the school day to 4 hours. As a result, refugee children in Gaza receive a severely truncated education and have little or no opportunity to engage in recreational or creative pursuits as school buildings are all day occupied.
UNRWA provided psychosocial training to teachers to improve their ability to deal with their own, and their students’, distress. This was a tool that Raghda said she lent on heavily as way to help “release” her students’ despair.
But with the arrival of a new semester in the first week of February, and the return of nearly 240,000 students to UNRWA schools, small glimmers of hope for Gaza’s Palestine refugee students are starting to emerge.
Approximately 250 new teachers have been recruited by UNRWA to keep pace with growing class numbers. In the year 2000, UNRWA schools averaged 49 students per class. This is now back to an average of 38 students.
With the completion last month of three UNRWA schools in Gaza City, Beit Hanoun and Jabalia - funded by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) - almost 4,000 refugee students started the second semester in the new buildings.
As children stream in for the morning shift at the school where Raghda teaches, it is difficult to imagine that only months ago the building was operating as one of 90 UNRWA emergency shelters for internally displaced persons. The school now welcomes 1,634 students each day, Three hundred of them are still displaced by recent conflict.
“We are doing our best to avail a decent education environment for students,” said School Principal, Mohammad Usruf, who leads Raghda and her colleagues at Zaitoun Elem co-Ed school “C”. The future, he believes, must remain with “helping Gaza’s young.”
Summary of Major Incidents
During the reporting period, there were a number of incidences of the IDF opening fire towards Palestinians near the fence and at Palestinian boats. On 30 and 31 January, militants fired a total of 17 test rockets towards the sea. On 3 February, Egyptian security forces opened fire towards two Palestinian military posts inside the Gaza Strip near the fence between Gaza and Egypt.
To response to the needs arising from the July/August conflict 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:
On 9 December 2014, UNRWA launched the oPt Emergency Appeal in Geneva. For its 2015 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:
- The Rafah crossing remained closed between 28 January and 3 February.
- Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 28-29 January. On 30 January, Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. The crossing was closed on 31 January and open 1-3 February.
- Kerem Shalom was open from 28-29 January and between 1 and 3 February. It was closed on 30 and 31 January.
Following the escalation in violence between Gaza and Israel in November 2012 an understanding was reached between Hamas and Israel, mediated by Egypt. 2013 was subsequently the quietest year in a decade, in terms of hostilities between Israel and Gaza. Events in 2014, however, have led to a profound deterioration in the situation.
From 8 July until 17 September 2014, UNRWA declared an emergency in all five areas of the Gaza Strip in response to escalating violence between Israel and Hamas. Until the 26 August cease-fire, civilian displacement and fatalities reached unprecedented levels.
The Israeli blockade of Gaza entered its 8th year in June 2014 and continues to have a devastating effect as access to markets and people’s movement to and from the Gaza Strip remain severely restricted. The economy and its capacity to create jobs has been devastated, with the majority of the population becoming dependent on humanitarian aid to meet basic needs. The number of Palestine refugees relying on UNRWA for food aid has increased from fewer than 80,000 in 2000 to approximately 868,000 today.
Gaza: Facts and Figures
- 1.26 million refugees out of 1.76 million total population
- 8 refugee camps
- Almost 12,500 staff
- 252 schools in 146 school buildings for more than 240,000 students
- 21 health centres
- 16 relief and social services offices
- 12 food distribution centres for almost 868,000 refugees
- Living under a tightened land and sea blockade since 2007
- Shattered local economy
- Long standing restrictions on movement of people and goods led to a de-development of Gaza
- Potentially unlivable place by 2020
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight.