Gaza Situation Report 104

06 August 2015
© 2015 UNRWA Photo

28 – 4 August 2015 | issue 104

  • To further explain the dire financial situation of the Agency, UNRWA’s Deputy Commissioner-General, Sandra Mitchell, visited Gaza on 2 and 3 August to meet beneficiary representatives as well as UNRWA staff members and personnel, including the Local Staff Union. The Deputy Commissioner-General explained the crisis’ potential consequences for beneficiaries and the efforts UNRWA is undertaking to bridge the current deficit of US$ 101 million of its General Fund. In a town hall meeting with staff members, she stated that UNRWA is “here to stay” until a “just and fair solution for Palestine refugees is found.” Furthermore, the Deputy Commissioner-General explained that due to the deficit, the Agency may be forced to temporarily suspend education services but in that case, life-saving services would remain a top priority. She emphasized that the international community is responsible to provide “proper and full funding” for the Agency and meet the humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees. UNRWA’s Deputy Commissioner-General also stated that no decision about the potential delay of the school year 2015/2016 has been taken yet, and that the Commissioner-General will take a decision in mid-August to give donors more time to respond to these critical funding shortages. Her visit also included a meeting with Dr. Zakaria Al Agha from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) with whom UNRWA is working closely in its advocacy efforts with donors. The Agency remains committed to its efforts to advocate for adequate funding and will maintain regular communication with community leaders, UNRWA colleagues, and the staff unions.
  • Since its rollout on 31 May 2015, the reformed UNRWA Poverty Assessment System (PAS) is progressing successfully and at full speed; UNRWA social workers are currently visiting up to five refugee families per day to assess their household situation and determine their food assistance eligibility. Since the rollout UNRWA social workers visited approximately 5,000 refugee families. The assessment of approximately 1,744 out of these 5,000 families has already been fully processed and the families will be notified about their results in the current food distribution round (July-September 2015). The 5,000 visited families belong to the first batch of approximately 20,000 new applicant cases that UNRWA plans to prioritize and assess before the end of September 2015. Given that these families are new applicants and thus are not currently receiving food assistance from UNRWA, in case they are found eligible this will increase the number of abject and absolute poor refugees being assisted by UNRWA. The Agency currently supports more than 876,000 Palestine refugees in Gaza with food assistance and expects this number to continue to increase.
  • As part of programming implemented by the UNRWA Relief and Social Services Programme (RSSP) for elderly persons, on 28 July the Agency organized a day of recreational activities for 27 elderly females from East Gaza in the Daraj Women’s Programme Centre in Gaza city. The activities included games as well as cultural and storytelling sessions. Over the past four months UNRWA, through Community-Based Rehabilitation Centres (CBRC), Women’s Programme Centres and local non-governmental organizations, has conducted numerous similar workshops across Gaza for elderly persons. The workshops are related to rehabilitation, health care, counseling and guidance, stress and relaxation, provision of assistive devices or culture and tradition. The overall objective is to strengthen the role of the elderly and their active participation in families and communities. In April 2015, 179 elderly persons benefited from these workshops, 200 in May and 293 in June. In partnership with UNRWA Health Centres, CBRCs also conducted awareness sessions about chronic diseases, particularly diabetes, which also included screening tests.
  • Shelter update
    • During the reporting week, UNRWA was able to disburse approximately US$ 1.56 million to beneficiaries in need of emergency shelter support. This includes transfers for outstanding transitional rental cash assistance (TSCA) to cover the period from January to July 2015 (U$ 294,425), for repair works of severely destroyed shelters (US$ US$ 1.03 million) and for the reconstruction of totally destroyed homes (US$ 235,893). A total of 505 refugee families will benefit from these funds and is able to access their payments through local banks. Shelter assistance is financed by earmarked donor funds which is money that therefore cannot be used for core services such as education.
       
    • Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, the Agency distributed over US$ 114.8 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or demolished during the 2014 summer conflict. To date, UNRWA has completed the payments to over 60,000 Palestine refugee families – almost half of the caseload – for minor repair works and to 348 families to repair their severely damaged shelters.
       
    • The funding for 11,729 families to continue repair or reconstruct their shelters is secured and payment transfers are ongoing. Furthermore, as of 4 August 2015, 12,528 families have received a rental subsidy payment to cover the period from September to December 2014 and 72,138 families have received payments to undertake repair works.
       
    • Due to lack of sufficient funding, to date 53,442 eligible families still have not received the first tranche for repair works of their shelter and 7,350 have not received the second tranche to continue repair works. UNRWA has processed these cases and they have received approval through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism; as soon as funding is secured, the Agency can distribute the urgently needed assistance to these families.
       
    • To date, UNRWA engineers have confirmed 139,817 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during last summer’s conflict; 9,117 of them are considered totally demolished. 5,000 shelters have suffered severe, 3,700 major and 122,000 minor, damages.
       
  • UNRWA continues to coordinate with the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories Unit (COGAT) regarding permits for its staff members to travel to Jerusalem to attend prayers in the Al Aqsa mosque. During the reporting week the last of the eight groups of a total of 830 female staff members who are above 50 years old have made a day trip to Jerusalem; in the coming week the first group of male staff members over 55 years old is expected to start their visit to the holy site in Jerusalem. UNRWA has submitted a list of 881 names to COGAT for approval. Each week approximately 100 of these male UNRWA staff members plan a similar day trip to Jerusalem over the next two months.
  • The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) has published its (annual) 2015 Household Environmental Survey for the period from 24 March 2014 to 31 May 2015. According to PCBS data, the household sector in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) consumed about 16.323 million cubic meters (MCM) of water per month during the reporting period, with 5.863 MCM per month in Gaza and 10.460 MCM per month in the West Bank. The monthly average household water consumption is with 19.7 CM higher in Gaza than in in the West Bank, where the average household water consumption stands at 18.3 CM. According to the survey, 93 per cent of the households in Gaza and 93.5 per cent of those in the West Bank are living in housing units connected to water networks. Furthermore, 53.9 per cent of households in the oPt reportedly used wastewater networks to dispose of their wastewater.  Households produced an average of 2.9 kg of waste per day, 3.2 kg in the West Bank and 2.4 kg in Gaza. UNRWA sanitation workers operating in refugee camps collected 9.4 per cent of the 2.5 tons of waste that is produced in the oPt on a daily basis.

General

Operational environment:  During the reporting week, protests and sit-ins in front of UNRWA installations across the Gaza Strip have continued, particularly related to the financial crisis the Agency is facing and the potential delay of the beginning of the 2015/2016 school year. The financial crisis creates fears and worry amongst Palestine refugees in Gaza, who largely depend on the Agency’s assistance due to high unemployment and poverty rates caused by the Israeli blockade imposed since June 2007 that maintains a total regulatory control over the life of Gazans, including heavy restrictions on movement of people and goods, and has crushed Gaza’s once trade-oriented economy and created widespread de-development and isolation.

One incident of intercommunal violence was reported this week; on 30 July a dispute between two families resulted in three injuries due to an exchange of fire.

During the reporting week, demonstrations were held in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails or in solidarity with journalists killed during the 2014 summer hostilities, or to protest the death of a Palestinian toddler in an arson attack on a home near Nablus in the West Bank on 31 July; the incident had been widely condemned by international leaders and officials, including statements from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov.

UNRWA’s response

A chance for women to support their families
Women on a carnation farm in Rafah, employed through the UNRWA Job Creation Programme, are bundling flowers destined for the local Gaza market. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan
Women on a carnation farm in Rafah, employed through the UNRWA Job Creation Programme, are bundling flowers destined for the local Gaza market. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan

In a big wide tent on a carnation farm in Rafah, southern Gaza, around 15 women are sitting at a large table piled with purple, dark red or yellow-white flowers; quietly and concentrate they bundle them into decorative bouquets, wrapped into shiny see-through plastic paper. The women, hired through the UNRWA Job Creation Programme (JCP), work on the farm every day from 6.30am to 12.30pm; they start with picking the flowers from the large flower beds in the early morning hours, and later, when it becomes too hot under the blazing sun, they retreat into the slightly cooler tent to pack the carnation and prepare it for the local Gaza market.

“The chance to work here is life-saving for me. I am truly happy to be able to work on this farm together with other women,” commented 34-year old Ghada Na’ana’, a mother of eight children, on her new short-term employment. “My husband left me three years ago for another woman; I am the only one who supports my children. We survive because of the food assistance we receive from UNRWA,” she added.

“This is the first time for me that I can say I leave my house to go to work. I am very pleased to meet with other people, and I made many friends. It is also beautiful to work and be surrounded by flowers,” said 30-year-old Zaher Al Mugheir. “This job allows me to do some maintenance work at my home, and I am able to buy new clothes for my children for the Eid holidays,” she added proudly.

The UNRWA JCP support provided to the agricultural sector aims at improving the quality and output of production by increasing manpower to assist with planting, maintenance and harvesting crops while reducing labour costs which presumably translates into a reduction of market costs for the consumer and ultimately contributes to local food security. At the same time, JCP support to the agricultural sector contributes to addressing the problem of unskilled female unemployment. In the first quarter of 2015, female unemployment in Gaza reached 55.2 per cent according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

The agricultural sector in Gaza has been severely affected by the blockade imposed in 2007. Despite a high potential for trade, current exports remain minimal due to the blockade’s heavy restriction on the movement of goods.

“It is the first time that UNRWA helped my business through providing JCP workers, and I really save a lot of money with that. Before the blockade, we exported many flowers to Europe, but since 2007 the business is down and there is no export,” commented Raza Hijazi, the owner of the farm where Ghada and Zaher are working. Before the blockade he employed 20 labourers, but since the closure he is only able to hire three of them. Ibrahim Siham, an owner of a rose farm nearby, agrees. “Over the past years I had to strongly cut down on employees. JCP helps me to increase my business; the money I save this way I invest in planting so my business can hopefully grow,” he said.

Since 2006, the Agency has created 18,385 JCP opportunities in the agricultural sector alone (6,350 female and 12,035 male), thereof 2,571 in the carnation sector. In 2014, a total of 20,545 refugees were employed through the JCP and UNRWA injected US$ 18.1 million into the Gaza economy; in the first quarter of 2015, the Agency created 12,646 JCP opportunities and injected US$ 7 million into the Gaza economy.

Summary of Major Incidents

Israeli forces fired towards Palestinians near the security fence or towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 31 July, Israeli forces reportedly killed one person and injured another one who had approached the security fence in northern Gaza.

On 28 July, two Israeli tanks and two bulldozers entered approximately 200 metres into central Gaza and conducted a clearing operation. On 30 July, one Israeli tank and two bulldozers entered approximately 200 metres into central Gaza and conducted a clearing and excavation operation. On 4 August four bulldozers entered approximately 100 metres into Gaza areas and conducted a levelling and excavation operation.

On 29 July, Palestinian medical crews removed a dead body from under the rubble; the person had reportedly been killed during the 2014 summer conflict.

On 30 July, militants fired four rockets towards Israel from northern Gaza; one of the rockets exploded at the launching site and the other three dropped short and landed in Gaza areas. On 1 August, militants fired three rockets from central Gaza and one from Rafah, southern Gaza, towards Israel. Three rockets dropped short and fell into Gaza and one landed next to the security fence on the Israeli side. Hamas security forces interrupted the launch of a second rocket from the same area in Rafah. On 2 August, militants fired two rockets from northern Gaza towards Israel; one of them exploded at the launching site and the other one landed in Gaza areas. On 3 August, militants fired two rockets towards Israel; both rockets dropped short.

Funding Needs

UNRWA is facing its most serious financial crisis ever: currently, UNRWA has a funding shortfall for core activities - such as schools for half a million children - of US$ 101 million. Without further contributions, the Agency would only be able to continue to fund its core activities into September 2015. With unprecedented needs faced by the Palestine refugees, contributions are falling short of the need for services. In response, the Agency is currently exploring options for additional funding, but is also implementing a series of austerity measures aimed at decreasing costs where possible while preserving essential services to refugees.

US$ 227 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$ 493 million.

As presented in UNRWA’s oPt Emergency Appeal, the Agency is seeking USD 366.6 million for its 2015 emergency operations in Gaza, 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.

Crossings

  • The Rafah Crossing remained closed from 28 July to 4 August.
  • The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 28 to 30 July and from 2 to 3 July. On 31 July, Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 1 August. As of 23 July, Israeli Arab ID holders or Jerusalem ID holders are not permitted to cross Erez into Gaza anymore following a policy change by the Israelis.
  • Kerem Shalom was open from 28 to 30 July and 2 and 3 August. It was closed on 31 July and 1 August.
UNRWA launched the #DignityIsPriceless campaign in Gaza on 22 January 2018. © 2018 UNRWA Photo Rushdi Al Saraj
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