02 July 2013
In addition to its regular services, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has begun working to reduce its overall environmental footprint in the Gaza Strip, including by exploring renewable energy solutions. A new report launched today, Gaza in 2020 – UNRWA
Operational Response, summarizes the Agency’s vision of how it will respond to the many challenges facing the Gaza Strip in the coming years, which were highlighted in a 2012 study by the United Nations Country Team (UNCT), Gaza in 2020: A Liveable Place?
Beginning in August 2013, the Government of Japan, through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), will undertake a study exploring ways in which UNRWA can exploit renewable energy in Gaza through a variety of interventions, such as the installation of solar panels on its facilities. Along with reducing its overall energy needs, and thus reducing electricity demand in Gaza, UNRWA will also work to support the expansion of the solar industry by training technicians and outsourcing installation and maintenance to the private sector.
“By the year 2020, the Palestine refugee population in Gaza will increase to approximately 1.6 million, up from 1.2 million refugees today,” said Robert Turner, Director for UNRWA Operations in Gaza, during the launch.” This not only adds some 400,000 Palestine refugees to an already overcrowded and heavily urbanized area, it also puts an immense strain on the infrastructure and social services of this over-burdened society.”
The Agency plans to go beyond the provision of core services by supporting Gaza’s access to water, through the construction of desalination facilities, and improving environmental health, through the expansion of recycling capacity in Gaza. This will provide an alternative to the 7,000 MT of solid waste from the eight UNRWA refugee camps in Gaza currently dumped in landfills each month. The Agency is also discussing with donors the possibility of improving access to water by installing small-scale desalination plants, as well as projects to recharge the aquifer.
By 2020, the aquifer upon which Gaza depends for almost all its water will be irreversibly damaged, presenting an existential threat to Gaza as a ‘liveable place’. Additionally, electricity provision will need to nearly double to meet demand; the sanitation system will be in urgent need of overhaul; and health services will need to expand to meet the population growth rates. Gaza has an overwhelmingly young population, and by 2020, the number of students is expected to grow to 275,000 from 225,000 today. Already, 86 per cent of UNRWA schools operate on a double-shift system, creating an environment that hampers learning and leaves little to no opportunity for extracurricular activities or support for students with special needs. In order to continue providing quality education and to avoid triple-shifting of schools, UNRWA will need to build an additional 75 school buildings in Gaza by 2020.
According to the new report, UNRWA will also support the expansion of the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector, a sector that has real growth potential, despite the blockade, as it is not limited by restrictions in the physical movement of people and goods. UNRWA will also have to continue to mitigate the effects of the man-made crisis in Gaza through the provision of cash-for-work opportunities and food assistance to the increasing number of Palestine refugees who are food insecure.
“Over 70 per cent of Gaza’s population are Palestine refugees. UNRWA clearly has a role in responding to these challenges, which is one of the many reasons why we continue to demand an end to the blockade in accordance with international humanitarian law,”,Mr Turner continued. “We are not the sole answer to any of these problems, but given our capacity and our comparative advantage in areas like construction and social service provision, we need to be part of the solution. The key challenge for UNRWA in Gaza – now and particularly in the future – is to bridge the gap between the identified needs of the refugee population, and the resources available to adequately address those needs.”
Mr Turner concluded: “Given the population growth and increasing poverty, refugees will depend on the Agency’s core and emergency interventions. In order for UNRWA to continue its role as key service provider for Palestine refugees in the future, international support is required for the delivery of essential interventions towards education, health, food security, decent housing, environmental health and social protection.”
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$ 65 million.