10 – 17 March 2015 | Issue 84
- UNRWA opened the newly reconstructed Health Centre in Rafah on 11 March. The 7,000 square metre health clinic was improved with funding from the Gulf Cooperation Council through the Islamic Development Bank. It will serve 135,000 refugees and last year carried out 335,000 medical consultations. “Access to quality health care remains a hallmark of the right of all people to live in dignity,” said Mr Robert Turner, the Director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, at the opening ceremony. With this ongoing commitment from the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Agency seeks to complete further health centre reconstructions in Maen, Beit Hanoun, Shaboura and Beach Camps. A new health centre will also be constructed in the Jabalia camp.
- In January 2015, UNRWA was forced to suspend its cash assistance programme supporting repairs and providing rental subsidies to Palestine refugee families in Gaza. Through reprogramming of funding and savings as well as receipt of pledges, UNRWA has been able to distribute a total of US$ 16.53 million to 12,574 families since the announcement of the suspension. Of the US$ 16.53 million, 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. A further US$1.1 million in funding became available for rental subsidy (transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA)) payments to some 800 families, and an additional US$ 1.93 million were paid out to 2,271 families for rental subsidies as part of the US$ 24.8 million German donation through KfW (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau). Germany together with Saudi Arabia are the key donors to the shelter cash assistance program in Gaza. The payments since the announcement of the suspension do not change the fact that only US$ 175 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency shelter programme, for which a total of US$ 720 million is required. This leaves a current shortfall of US$ 545 million. UNRWA urgently requires additional funding to allow refugee families with minor damage to repair their homes and to provide on-going rental subsidies (TSCA).
- In September 2014, the Governments of Israel and Palestine established the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) to allow the entry of building materials for repair and reconstruction of private housing and infrastructure damaged or destroyed during the hostilities, as import of construction material is banned by the Government of Israel and only possible for UN-led projects following a lengthy approval procedure but not for the shelter self-help programme. In total, and as of the start of the shelter programme, the Agency has distributed US$ 93.1 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families. The funding allowed UNRWA to assist some 60,000 families to repair damage to their homes and comes in addition to the rental subsidies (Transitional Shelter Cash Assistance, TSCA) and Reintegration Grants that were provided to over 10,000 families. As of mid-March 2015, UNRWA engineers have completed the technical assessment of some 127,500 homes as part of the UNRWA shelter and rental subsidies programme. Whilst the appeal review is still ongoing, over 9,000 Palestine refugee houses are considered totally destroyed and over 5,000 have suffered severe, over 4,000 major and almost 110,000 minor damages. To date, UNRWA has only received funding to build 200 houses.
- More young people in the Gaza Strip are learning how to deal with stress and trauma than ever before. Working with a team of 250 trained UNRWA community health counsellors across the Gaza Strip, in the first week of March 2015 alone, the Agency reached 24,343 students in its recreational Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) training sessions. This included 15,859 students in group guidance sessions, 1,215 students in group counselling and the delivery of 766 individual counselling sessions to students. After the 2012 conflict, the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder rate among children in Gaza doubled, according to the Agency. Anecdotal evidence suggests the July/August 2014 conflict has further compounded children’s suffering.
- On 12 March it was reported in several media outlets that Israel has resumed its import of vegetables and fruits from Gaza. Tomatoes and eggplants were transported into Israel under a potential plan to import 1,200-1,500 tonnes of Gazan produce a month. Due to proximity and economic integration, the West Bank and Israel absorbed 85 per cent of the products sold outside the Gaza Strip before the closure. Nearly 6,000 truckloads exited Gaza each year prior to the blockade, whereas in 2014 only 228 truckloads left the Strip. The resumed imports are a positive indication and show that security issues are not a barrier to increased exports from Gaza to Israel. Nevertheless, the decision falls short of demands for a full lifting of the blockade.
- According to new data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), unemployment in Gaza increased dramatically from 45.4 per cent in the second quarter of 2014 to 47.4 per cent in the third quarter of 2014. It decreased slightly to 42.8 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2014 with the resumption of productive activities, the payment of repair grants and the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) activation. The average unemployment rate in 2014 stood at 43.9 per cent and at 44.1 per cent for refugees. Although the participation of women in the labour force is with an average of 20 per cent (against 68.2 per cent for men) in 2014 one of the lowest worldwide, the rate has doubled compared to 2010 and is almost three times higher than in 2002. Female youth make up the group with the highest average unemployment rate – 78.7 per cent (76.9 per cent for female youth refugees). Overall, around two third (66.7 per cent) of the youth population in Gaza was unemployed during 2014. PCBS data does not measure underemployment and thus fails to capture the full scale of the situation.
- The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in UNRWA shelters continued to decline during the reporting week; the Agency still provides shelter and basic services to some 7,910 IDPs in 14 Agency-run Collective Centres (CCs). From 11 to 17 March the Collective Centre Management Unit (CCMU) provided IDPs with a total of 25,974 hot meals. The meals are prepared and delivered by three contracted kitchens located in the North Area, Gaza and Khan Younis. 700 grams of bread per day per every four IDPs is provided from a number of local bakeries through the support of the World Food Programme (WFP).
- On 12 March, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) signed a donation agreement with the Palestinian Government over US$ 200 million for the reconstruction of 1,500 houses and infrastructure projects in Gaza. The US$ 200 million is the full pledge made by Kuwait at the Cairo Conference.
- Two representatives from the Korea International Cooperation Agency’s (KOICA) visited Gaza on 11 March, as part of an appraisal mission to look into new avenues of funding. After being briefed by UNRWA on the Agency’s priorities and the context in Gaza, the delegation visited the Khan Younis Training Centre and observed “over-aged students” who have previously failed two or more years in school practicing masonry, smithery, emergency nursing, construction or tilling. The initiative gives non-traditional UNRWA students a chance to prove their talent and skills in a non-academic field. KOICA is currently supporting the UNRWA Gaza social enterprise Gaza Gateway with a three-year US$ 1.3 million contribution. Korea’s total contribution to UNRWA increased from US$ 61,000 in 2012 to US$ 1.1 million in 2014.
- Electricity continues to be a major issue across the Gaza Strip, with Rafah area particularly affected during the reporting period. After the Egyptian power plant in El Arish reportedly sustained a sudden failure, Rafah residents found themselves in darkness and predominately without electricity from 12 to 16 March. Some families received electricity for approximately three hours per day, but for the majority the power was completely off. Gaza depends on three primary electricity sources: the Israeli electricity company, the sole Gaza Power Plant (targeted and damaged during the July/August 2014 conflict) and the Egyptian electricity grid. These supplies provide 230 MW and fall short of the actual needs of 350-450 MW. Prior to the summer 2014 conflict and since the imposed blockade in 2007 Gaza generally operated on an “eight hours on, 12 hours off” emergency electricity schedule. Acute shortages after the July/August 2014 crisis changed this schedule and limited the electricity provision to about six hours in Gaza’s middle and north areas.
- Media reports indicate that Hamas has welcomed the decision by the Egyptian State Lawsuits Authority to appeal the declaration of Hamas a terrorist organisation by a local court in February. The appeal was filed with the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters and the hearing shall start on 28 March. In January, an Egyptian court had declared the armed wing of Hamas, the al-Qassam Brigades, a terrorist group. “The move is a step in the right direction and a political admission by the authorities in Egypt that the ruling was a major mistake,” said Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri.
Operational environment: In addition to the destruction and despair that still dominate life almost seven months after the ceasefire, Gaza’s population continues to face electricity shortages, food insecurity, extreme water pollution and an ongoing political paralysis. Political reconciliation between the Palestinian factions is not advancing. The legislative elections scheduled in Israel on 17 March contribute to an atmosphere of uncertainty amongst families in the Gaza Strip. Car bombings, gunfire and general unrest were all reported during the week. Hope in Gaza is becoming as rare as employment opportunities.
During the reporting period, daily protests and civil unrest continued outside UN installations and INGO offices. A 27-year old Palestinian attempted to burn himself in front of the UNRWA Gaza Field Office on 12 March in order to protest against the refusal of his Job Creation Programme application because he is a non-refugee. Other demonstrations were focused on demands for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, the payment of their (former de-facto government) salaries and a speedier reconstruction process. On 15 and 16 March doctors, mukhtars (community leaders) and others held a sit in at Rafah, demanding the construction of a new public hospital.
“Now we can gather as one family again”
“The Masri family was able to repair the second floor of their house in Beit Hanoun which suffered major damages during last summer’s conflict. © 2015 UNRWA Photo/Gaza
Hamza Al Masri is a 32-years old father of five who lives in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. Beit Hanoun was one of the most affected areas by last summer’s conflict.
Like many families in Gaza, the Masri family had to face many difficulties in life. Just before the July/August 2014 hostilities their eldest son died of cancer at the age of only 11 years. Shortly after, another tragedy unfolded: “It is so hard to recall the experience we went through, the bombing is still in our minds and ears. We all gathered at the ground floor in one room - me, my kids, and my brother with his kids,” said Hamza, describing what happened to his family when the last conflict started. “Our house is all we have, and first I did not want to leave it. But then many of my neighbours started to evacuate their houses,” he continued. “They all fled with their families when the shelling intensified. The situation was very chaotic, children were screaming, we were so scared and worried and we could not do anything, we were all praying to see another morning,” Khulud, his 30-years old wife, added when explaining these dreadful moments. “Then in the early hours of one morning we decided to flee as well and ran to an UNRWA school in Jabalia,” Hamza concluded.
The house of the Al Masri family suffered major damages. Mortar shells directly hit the second floor of their house where Hamzi’s brother and his family were living and caused significant destruction.
The family stayed more than 40 days in the UNRWA Collective Centre in Jabalia, but they did not feel safe there either: On 30 July, three Israeli explosive projectiles struck the school where around 2,945 internally displaced people sought shelter and shrapnel injured Hamza’s five-year old son. 16 persons were killed and up to 99 injured. The school’s coordinates had been formally conveyed to the Israeli authorities on at least 28 occasions over a fourteen day span, the last the night before the incident.
When the ceasefire was finally announced, Hamza went to check on his home and was shocked by the magnitude of the devastation: “everything was destroyed, no bedrooms, no kitchen, nothing, we lost everything,” he remembered with an aching voice.
When the 50 days of hostilities came to an end, UNRWA social workers and engineers started to visit families whose houses had been affected by the conflict. Hamza’s house was classified as uninhabitable and UNRWA put his name on a list that was forwarded to the Palestinian Ministry of Public Works so his family could benefit from the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). The GRM is a temporary agreement between the Government of Palestine and the Government of Israel. Its overall objective is to enable construction and reconstruction work at the large scale now required in the Gaza Strip as construction material imports are banned from import by the Government of Israel. Construction material for small shelter repair first entered Gaza through the GRM on 14 October.
For Hamza’s family the GRM has provided an opportunity to rebuild their beloved home. With the transitional cash assistance he received from UNRWA for shelter repairs, Hamza was able to buy construction materials considered as “dual use” through the GRM and started to fix his house. “It’s really good that we could buy the building materials, it helped us to repair the house where we can gather as one family again,” Hamza explained.
Not only thinking about his own benefit, he says: “Receiving the building materials has also allowed me to hire labourers and provide them with an opportunity to work and earn money. This is very important considering the dire economic situation Gaza is facing.” The tight Israeli blockade since 2007 has crippled the once dynamic and trade-oriented economy and its capacity to create jobs and pushed the majority of the population into poverty and aid dependency.
Today, Hamza and his family are living in their house again together with his brother’s family. They have also given shelter to his two sisters with their children, since their house has been completely destroyed by the conflict.
Summary of Major Incidents
During the reporting week, IDF troops fired at Palestinians near the fence with Israel and at Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 11 March, Israeli tanks and bulldozers reportedly entered Gaza approximately 200 metres east of El Maghazi Camp located in the middle of Gaza. They conducted an excavation operation before they withdrew a few hours later. A Palestinian who attempted to cross into Israel east of Nahal Oz in Gaza on 15 March was reportedly shot at and arrested by IDF troops. On 16 March it was reported that another two Palestinian were arrested while trying to cross into Israel from the Maghazi, in the middle of the Strip. On 15 March militants fired a test rocket towards the sea.
US$ 175 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency shelter programme, for which a total of US$ 720 million is required. This leaves a current shortfall of US$ 545 million. UNRWA urgently requires US$ 100 million in the first quarter of 2015 to allow refugee families with minor damage to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies.
As presented in UNRWA’s oPt Emergency Appeal, 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 (PDF).
- The Rafah Crossing was open on 10 March; it remained closed from 11 to 17 March.
- The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff during the reporting week. On 13 March Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 14 March. It was also closed on 17 March due to the legislative elections in Israel.
- Kerem Shalom was open between 10 to 12 and 15 and 16 March. It was closed on 13 and 14 March. It was also closed on 17 March due to the legislative elections in Israel.