Palestine’s Silent Emergency: Breaking the Silence

17 March 2014
Palestine’s Silent Emergency: Breaking the Silence
Statement of the Deputy Commissioner-General, Margot Ellis, on the Occasion of the Launch of the Inter-Agency Humanitarian Appeal for Gaza and the West Bank

Ramallah

Your Excellency, the Minister of Planning and Development, Mohammad Abu Ramadan;
The Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, James Rawley;
Head of UN-OCHA, Ramesh Rajasingham;
Distinguished Guests.

The tragedy of Palestine refugees in the West Bank and Gaza has brought us together for another year for the launch of the inter-agency appeal that is aimed at alleviating long-standing humanitarian suffering. I would like to point out that this year is somewhat different than previous years as international media headlines have focused their attention on the relentless violence of the Syria crisis. In many ways, the plight of Palestine refugees in the West Bank and Gaza has become a silent emergency. We, as the international community together with donors, the Palestinian Authority and local partners, are responsible to ensure that the plight of these refugees remains vivid and unforgotten.

Gaza received full coverage in the media in the winter of 2008-2009 and then again in November 2012, but lately, media interest in the suffering endured by Palestine refugees there receives minimal coverage. The occupation of the West Bank is also sadly becoming a forgotten emergency as demolitions continue and settlements expand, only exacerbating an already tense situation. 

We estimate that this year, US$ 300 million is required to meet the most pressing humanitarian needs in the West Bank and Gaza, of which US$ 254 million in Gaza and US$ 45 million in the West Bank.  From our current estimates, there is a likelihood of receiving only US$ 120 million, less than half of what is required.  

This reality of the shortfall in emergency funding forces us to reflect on the unspeakable further suffering that will take place without adequate funding for UNRWA to provide food assistance, protection services, water and sanitation, emergency education and shelter to those most in need. In Gaza, we continue to witness the devastating results of the blockade imposed by the Government of Israel. Gazans are deeply suffering with an unemployment rate of 38.5 per cent as of the last quarter of 2013, which is an increase of over 10 percentage points compared to six months earlier. 

The halt of the illegal tunnel trade, a necessary lifeline given the shortages created by the blockade, has led to an electricity, fuel and food crisis. Construction in Gaza, one of the main potential economic sources of growth and jobs, has been severely affected as prices have skyrocketed, in some cases by 300 per cent since June 2013. 

Lack of access to fuel imported from Egypt has aggravated the already fragile economic situation, forcing the Gaza Power Plant to shut down for 46 days in November and December 2013. With the support of funding from Qatar, power is available, but once these Qatari-funded resources are depleted, it is expected that there will be power outages of 12-16 hours a day. 
The blockade imposed by the Government of Israel remains the number one reason for the lack of development of Gaza’s once dynamic and trade-oriented economy. The blockade is strangling whatever is left of the economy and livelihood of Gazans.

Food assistance is of paramount importance in Gaza, where last year, UNRWA provided food assistance to over 800,000 refugees. In 2000, when the economy was functioning smoothly, only 10 per cent of refugees required UNRWA food aid. Children are suffering immensely in Gaza, as it has been reported that 1 in 10 children is experiencing stunted growth brought on by malnutrition. 

The stark reality is that the livelihood of Palestine refugees in Gaza is plummeting and it is increasingly difficult to secure funding for these very real and pressing humanitarian needs.  

I turn to the situation in the West Bank, where Palestine refugees continue to face grave protection and humanitarian challenges. In 2013, there was a 60 per cent increase in incursions into refugee camps undertaken by the Israeli security forces compared to the previous year. At least 486 Palestine refugees were injured in camps, 13 times the number of those injured in 2012. 

Over the course of 2013, at least 663 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished by the Israeli authorities due to a lack of building permits. Eighty-five per cent of the demolitions took place in Area C. These demolitions affected nearly 3,000 Palestinians, 870 of whom are refugees; more than half of them are children. 

In response to these concerns, the UNRWA crisis-intervention model has assisted over 2,000 refugees directly affected by demolitions or personal damages incurred due to law-enforcement operations. UNRWA continues to advocate against excessive use of force and demolition of the homes of Palestine refugees who are increasingly dependent on the Agency for humanitarian support. 

While the rise in violence inside the camps is striking, UNRWA is equally concerned about the consistent threats to the livelihood of Bedouin communities living in Area C and the Jerusalem periphery.  I recently visited the community of Khan al Ahmar, one of 20 communities where some 2,300 Bedouin in the Jerusalem periphery are at risk of transfer and the ensuing devastation to their communities and traditional herding livelihoods.  

Eighty per cent of the population of these communities are registered refugees who have already experienced multiple counts of displacement and dispossession since 1948.  Their livelihoods are today again threatened; every structure in the Khan al Ahmar community, and many others in the area, has received a full demolition order – including the elementary school.  Just last week, the swing from their playground was confiscated.  Plans for a large-scale Bedouin town are currently being developed by the Israeli authorities, who propose to transfer the Khan al Ahmar community, and others, into urban centres. UNRWA remains concerned that any proposed transfer by Israel of Bedouins and other pastoralist communities currently residing in the Jerusalem periphery may amount to individual and mass forcible transfers and evictions, contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law.

UNRWA emergency programmes continue to support this community through the provision of direct food aid, as well as community mental health and mobile-clinic services.  In addition, our community-mobilization initiatives help community leaders to manage the Bedouin Protection Committee, giving the Bedouins a voice against this threat, showing a human face to what is often perceived as a political issue.

As the situation in the West Bank continues to decline, the UNRWA cash-for-work programme in the camps, from which a targeted 10,000 Palestine refugee households will benefit, continues to serve as the lifeline for survival for the poorest of Palestine refugees.  In 2013 alone, over 7,000 Palestine refugee households benefited from the programme.

UNRWA is also currently working in partnership with the World Food Programme to implement a food-voucher system to assist 10,000 food-insecure households in urban areas and to provide emergency food parcels for 15,000 food-insecure refugees living in remote and rural areas.  This assistance is critical to ensure that these families can meet their most basic food needs. 

I see today’s gathering as an important opportunity for us to reflect on ways to ensure that the immense devastation brought on by the lack of a durable solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is not forgotten. 

The picture of Gaza in 2020 lacking access to potable water for more than 2 million residents at that time and the image of displaced, vulnerable refugee children in the West Bank are painful realities that must remain etched in our conscience as we continue to find ways to ensure that their humanitarian needs are met. 

I wish to thank donors who have so generously contributed to previous appeals for Gaza and the West Bank. I urge donors to continue to support emergency operations in order to ensure that until a just and durable solution is found, the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory never be diminshed to a forgotten emergency.  

Thank you.

Background Information

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. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 69 million.

For more information, please contact:

Christopher Gunness
UNRWA Spokesperson
Mobile: 
+972 (0)54 240 2659
Office: 
+972 (0)2 589 0267
Sami Mshasha
UNRWA Arabic Spokesperson
Mobile: 
+972 (0)54 216 8295
Office: 
+972 (0)2 589 0724

Gaza Emergency Donate Message 2
US$ 40 FEEDS A PERSON TWO DAILY MEALS FOR A WEEK