SPECIAL FEATURE: 26 August, the first anniversary of the ceasefire after 50 days of conflict
During the 50 days of hostilities, nobody and nothing was safe in the Gaza Strip. With Gaza effectively sealed off by land, sea and air, the option of fleeing the coastal enclave was simply nonexistent. The ground offensive in the Gaza Strip with air, artillery and naval support, left people with simply nowhere to go for refuge, other than UNRWA schools operating as emergency shelters. Throughout the armed conflict, UNRWA provided humanitarian assistance (including non-food-items, food, water, psycho-social support) to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 90 of 156 UNRWA school buildings, with the remaining school buildings either unsafe or damaged. On 23 August, a record-high of 292,959 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were counted in 85 UNRWA school buildings. After the ceasefire on 26 August as the majority of IDPs left to occupy their original damaged and undamaged properties, the Agency consolidated the remaining 74 shelters into 18 for the 60,000 IDPs who remained. In parallel, UNRWA began providing conditional cash assistance to offset transitional shelter costs (for completely and severely demolished properties) repair damaged properties and provide reintegration packages. This enabled IDPs to transition back to the local community with an increased sense of dignity, normalcy and privacy. Collective Centres (CCs) continued operations until 17 June, 2015, when UNRWA, in partnership with the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) and Qatar were able to provide payments to all families and allow them to transition out of the CCs. As of 25 August 2015, 12,528 families have received a rental subsidy payment to cover the period from September to December 2014 and 8,828 families have received a rental subsidy payment to cover the period from January to August 2015.
RECONSTRUCTION AND REPAIRS
The scale of human loss, destruction, devastation and displacement caused by this third conflict within seven years was catastrophic, unprecedented and unparalleled in Gaza, since at least the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967. The human, social and economic costs of the hostilities sit against a backdrop of a society already torn by wide-spread poverty, frustration and anger, heightening vulnerability and political instability within the occupied Palestinian territory. While final conclusion of the shelter assessment process is pending thorough review of refugee family cases who consider themselves eligible, UNRWA confirmed 139,817 refugee dwellings as impacted during the summer 2014 hostilities. This is more than three times as many as initially estimated based on satellite imagery and preliminary field work conducted immediately after the conflict. Of the total caseload, 9,117 Palestine refugee houses are assessed as totally demolished and 5,000 have suffered severe damages, while 3,700 have suffered major damages and 122,000 sustained minor damages. The lack of progress in the shelter programme is predominately due to the unavailability of construction material in the local market because of the Israeli blockade on Gaza and the lack of financial resources available to UNRWA for repair and rental subsidies. Moreover, an agreement between Israel and Palestine was only reached in the beginning of July on a workable mechanism to reconstruct completely destroyed homes under the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, the Agency has distributed over US$ 124.9 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 66,200 Palestine refugee families – almost half of the caseload – for minor repair works and to 428 families to repair their severely damaged shelters. Payments for 12,025 families to continue repair or reconstruct their shelters are ongoing. As of 25 August 2015, 78,632 families have received payments to undertake repair works and 69 families have received payments to start the reconstruction of their totally demolished homes. UNRWA also continues its regular housing and camp improvement projects led by the Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Department.
LIFE SAVING CORE SERVICES
There is no other UN Agency in the world that is as operational and as relied upon as UNRWA. That was particularly visible during the 2014 summer hostilities when dedicated staff continued delivery of core services and undertook the massive humanitarian response, effectively supporting the whole population of Gaza.
Throughout the emergency, UNRWA continued the operation of health centres, food distribution and WASH (Water, Sanitation, Health) services in Gaza’s eight refugee camps. The Agency was effectively supporting the entire population of the Gaza Strip through various life-saving interventions, including food aid, shelter and health. The regular in-kind food commodities to over 868,000 people, as well as an exceptional food distribution – in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Ministry of Social Affairs – of flour and rice to all families not receiving food assistance from UNRWA or the World Food Programme’s regular food programmes or the in-kind food commodities provided to families in shelters. During the 50 days of conflict alone UNRWA processed 4,615 Job Creation Programme (JCP) contracts for Palestinians related to the emergency response. This not only boosted UNRWA’s response capacity, but also provided much needed income to families at a time when it was most needed. Over the course of nine months after the conflict until the closure of the Collective Centres (CCs) in June 2015, UNRWA provided 4,763,682 food rations, 282,904 hot meals and 25,216,722 litres of portable water to refugees in its CCs. In the first quarter of 2015 UNRWA expanded its food assistance to almost 876,500 persons – or 68 per cent of the total refugee population. The Agency has now reformed its Poverty Assessment System (PAS), introducing a method that improves efficiency and accuracy in data collection. In addition, during the emergency UNRWA health services were extended to all Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. On average, some 70 per cent of UNRWA health staff continued reporting to work, including at the height of the hostilities. Throughout 2014, the 21 UNRWA health centres provided 4,234,635 medical consultations, excluding non-refugees who were given access to UNRWA primary health-care services as a result of the July to August hostilities. These consultations also included ante- and post-natal care. An additional 10,758 students underwent comprehensive medical examinations. Those students in need of medical assistance or in need of visual or hearing aids were reimbursed by the Agency. As a result of the conflict, the need and demand for psycho-social support increased considerably; 92 counsellors from the UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme were assigned to emergency shelters, and additional staff were temporarily brought in to provide necessary counselling. Protection concerns, including Gender-Based Violence, were identified and followed-up by the Operation Support Office and Protection Focal Points appointed to the Collective Centres. Overall, UNRWA provided individual counselling to 18,292 new persons in 2014, of whom 8,868 were female; of the total number of individual counselling provided, 10,672 were in the six last months of the year. Finally, throughout and after the conflict UNRWA’s microfinance programme continued to help Gazans access credit and loans that enable them to develop or expand businesses, build household assets or cover their basic consumption, education and healthcare needs.
The Agency was able to begin the school year on 14 September 2014, just three weeks after term was due to begin. This was a massive achievement and was aimed at not only re-starting children’s learning, but also creating a sense of routine and stability to aid in children’s recovery. To mitigate the effects of the conflict on children’s welfare and education, after the summer 2014 conflict the UNRWA Education Programme undertook a phased approach to supporting children’s transition back into formal education activities. Counsellors at UNRWA Relief and Social Services (RSS) offices were also temporarily reassigned to schools to better meet the need among students adjusting to the school year after the hostilities. In addition, UNRWA maintains a network of 250 counsellors from its Community Mental Help Programme to continuously address the students’ psycho-social needs. The number of students provided with individual counselling at schools was 14,499 – with 42 per cent of these being girls. The majority of cases were reported after the summer. The use of a large number of UNRWA school buildings for hosting Internally Displaced Persons during the 2014/2015 school year resulted in additional schools operating in double and triple shifts, teachers and students having to cope with an overcrowded environment. With the closure of Collective Centres, the UNRWA Department of Education increased its focus on the maintenance of school buildings, including improving access to water, continuous electricity supply and rehabilitating damaged premises. After a 3-months summer break beginning in late May, on 24 August, nearly 250,800 students were scheduled to begin the new school year 257 UNRWA schools. Meanwhile the Agency continues its efforts to cope with overcrowding in schools by building new school buildings.