Gaza situation report 141

28 April 2016
© 2016 UNRWA
19 April  – 26 April | Issue 141
  • In April 2016, UNRWA commenced the second round of its food distribution, which runs until June 2016, and for the first time provides the new and improved food baskets to over 930,000 Palestine refugees. Prior to the distribution, during February and March 2016, the Agency launched an extensive outreach campaign on these new food baskets to ensure that beneficiaries are informed about the changes and their questions and concerns are addressed in a pro-active way. In addition to wide-range of community outreach meetings and awareness sessions on health and nutrition, the UNRWA communications office created an animation video that explains the process in detail. The video is currently broadcast on UNRWA TV and its corresponding YouTube channel and can be watched here. In the coming weeks, the communications office will also start broadcasting seven episodes of a cooking show based on the ingredients of the new food baskets. One of the main improvements of the new UNRWA food baskets is the inclusion of lentils and chickpeas – and canned sardines in the ration for Social Safety Net beneficiaries (Abject Poor beneficiaries: those households living below US$ 1.5 per capita per day) - selected as an optimal addition due to their nutritional values and macro- and micro-nutrients.
  • The UNRWA Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP) has completed the construction of water purification plants in 50 UNRWA schools as part of the Agency’s emergency preparedness measures. 14 schools are located in northern Gaza, 13 in Gaza city, 5 in central Gaza, 10 in Khan Younis and 8 in Rafah, southern Gaza. In 41 of these 50 schools ICIP had to first dig water wells, the remaining nine schools already included a well. The 50 purification plants are part of the Agency’s emergency preparedness measures and the schools would serve as designated emergency shelters in an emergency situation, with the purification plants having the ability to provide 25 cubic metres of potable water on a daily basis to internally displaced persons (IDPs) hosted in the shelters. The existence of purification plants inside the schools limits the potential movement of water tank trucks and reduces the risk exposure of the Agency’s logistics staff. The purification plants serve the schools also during regular operations, and they strongly reduce the schools’ water costs: purification plants provide potable water at 1/15 of the price of current suppliers used by the Agency. Throughout the 2014 conflict, UNRWA provided humanitarian assistance – including water, food, and non-food items – to over 290,000 internally displaced persons in 90 of 156 UNRWA school buildings. In the aftermath of the conflict, UNRWA provided 25.2 million litres of potable waters, to over 18,250 IDPs remaining in its Collective Centre (CC) between October 2014 and June 2015, when the last CC closed
  • On 19 April, members of the Ad-hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) for development assistance to the Palestinian people met in Brussels, Belgium. The meeting was hosted by EU High Representative Ms. Federica Mogherini, and chaired by Norway’s Foreign Minister Mr. Børge Brende. In the meeting, the AHLC expressed serious concerns over the damaging consequences of the current political impasse between the Israeli and Palestinian governments. While stressing that economic development cannot be a substitute for a political resolution to the conflict, the AHLC reaffirmed its support to developing a sustainable Palestinian economy as a crucial step for becoming a viable, independent, contiguous and sovereign state. The committee, among other issues, also called for efforts to accelerate reconstruction in Gaza, particularly with respect to infrastructure, energy, water and housing while urging all donors to translate their pledges from the Cairo Conference in 2014; it also called for a restoration of unity between the West Bank and Gaza under a single, legitimate governing authority. In advance of the meeting, the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Office of the Quartet had prepared reports on the current economic situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. The AHLC is a 15-member committee that serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people. It is chaired by Norway and co-sponsored by the US and the EU; the UN participated together with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
  • The Gaza Community Mental Health Programme organized the 6th international conference Mental Health and Human Rights in Palestine, on 19 and 20 April. Mr Bo Schack, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, attended the opening session of the conference. The conference addressed new topics in the field of mental health and human rights in the context of the devastating impact of recurring cycles of armed violence and blockade in the Gaza Strip, which have led to various levels of psycho-social distress. Low family income, high unemployment rates, poverty, large family sizes and overcrowding add to anxiety, depression, behavioural disorder and sometimes substance abuse. UNRWA addresses the psycho-social needs of its beneficiaries through its Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) which maintains a network of 250 psycho-social counsellors in UNRWA schools, as well 23 counsellors and five legal advisors at its Health Centres. The CMHP programme has a particular focus on school students, where refugee children receive individual and group counselling, including those who drop out of school.
  • To ensure the well-being and health of its beneficiaries who are for various reasons unable to access UNRWA Health Centres, the UNRWA Health Programme (HP) conducts home visits to patients. In March, UNRWA nurses conducted a total of 609 home visits, with the majority being for post and ante natal care purposes, patients with non-communicable diseases, or children. In addition to the home visits, HP personnel reached beneficiaries through 3,238 mobile phone consultations. Based on the continuing breast cancer awareness campaign, UNRWA Health Centres examined almost 8,800 female patients and referred 379 cases to hospitals in March. In addition, the centres offered mammography services for 7,142 beneficiaries. The UNRWA HP also works towards the prevention and control of diseases.  In March, HP personnel suspected seven typhoid fever cases and detected 42 cases with viral hepatitis, 17 mumps cases, 1,704 children below five years old with diarrhoea as well as 808 cases above five years old suffering from diarrhoea, in addition to 160 cases with bloody diarrhoea. All the necessary public health measures were implemented. In Gaza, diarrhoea is mostly a water-borne disease and related to the lack of access to clean drinking water or shortage of water for sanitation in addition to poor environmental sanitation and personal hygiene. The Gaza Strip suffers from a very severe water and sanitation crisis; the UN already warned in 2012 that its aquifer may become unusable by 2016, with damage irreversible by 2020, and the Time stated recently that the Gaza water crisis is a “ticking global-health time bomb”, with a real threat of a pandemic. To prevent diseases, UNRWA Gaza also continues with its immunization and vaccination programme. The Agency considers this programme one of its most successful and effective public health interventions. Since 1985, UNRWA has eliminated the five main threats to the lives of refugee children – measles, poliomyelitis, pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria. In 2015, the Agency vaccinated over 40,000 children with 12 different types of vaccines; the coverage rate is almost 99. 8 per cent. Vaccination schedules are updated regularly; in March 2016, UNRWA added roatarix vacation to protect children from diarrhoea. With its immunization programme, UNRWA follows closely the principle of the currently ongoing World Health Organization immunization week theme “close the immunization gap.”

General

Operational environment: Regular protests and demonstrations took place during the reporting week, predominantly against the closure of Rafah crossing and in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Other demonstrations were held across Gaza in support of developments at Al Aqsa Mosque and in the West Bank (see Summary of Major Incidents).

On 21 April, a Palestinian male was arrested by Israeli forces east of central Gaza when he reportedly tried to cross into Israel through the perimeter fence.

On 21 April, a gunman reportedly shot and killed a Palestinian male in Gaza city. The police reportedly arrested the gunman and opened an investigation.

A 19-year old Palestinian youth who was reportedly injured during protests at the perimeter fence on 18 April was reportedly arrested by Israeli forces on 20 April at Erez crossing when he attempted to cross to receive medical treatment in the West Bank.

On 24 April, three persons reportedly assaulted an UNRWA Job-Creation Programme (JCP) contractor at the sanitation office in Bureij camp, central Gaza. One of the assailants reportedly used a knife; the JCP contractor suffered injuries and was treated in a hospital. The motive for the assault was reportedly due to a family dispute.

UNRWA response

Showing self-initiative: UNRWA vocational training student works to repair homes in northern Gaza
18-year old Mohammad Bassam Al Masri is applying the masonry skills he acquired during a vocational training at the UNRWA Gaza Training Centre to repair his own family house in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza. The house suffered major damage during the 2014 conflict, but was not rendered uninhabitable. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam
18-year old Mohammad Bassam Al Masri is applying the masonry skills he acquired during a vocational training at the UNRWA Gaza Training Centre to repair his own family house in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza. The house suffered major damage during the 2014 conflict, but was not rendered uninhabitable. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam

Unemployment in Gaza has been consistently high over the past two years, and the Strip is considered as having one of the highest joblessness rates in the world. In 2015, the overall youth unemployment rate stood at 61 per cent, and the youth female unemployment rate at 78.5 per cent, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. 

UNRWA tries to mitigate the impact of these dire circumstances through various employment-related interventions, for example through its Job-Creation Programme, the generation of full-time job equivalents (FTEs) via its construction activities (including self-help shelter programme and reconstruction interventions), and vocational training to provide youth with skills-based training to increase their chances in the Gaza job market. Currently, the Agency provides vocational training opportunities for a total of 1,685 youths in its two vocational training centres in Gaza city and Khan Younis; 524 of the youth are female and 1,161 are male. 

18-year old Mohammad Bassam Al Masri is one of 18 students who in February 2016 completed a vocational training in masonry at the Gaza Vocational Training Centre, in addition to a three-month internship in the private sector facilitated through UNRWA to allow the students to gain on the job-training and work experience.  The training and internship allowed him to professionalize his knowledge in bleaching materials, building proper walls with weight, levelling or interlocking, or implementing works of shuttering ground beams.

Being a young man with a lot of self-initiative, Mohammad did not wait long to put his newly acquired skills to use.

“In school, I was a low-achieving student, and after finishing preparatory school I started working at construction sites, together with my uncle. When I heard about the vocational training, I thought this may be a good opportunity to improve my skills,” he explained. “So I kept working as construction worker in the mornings, but in the afternoon I went to the training. While previously I was considered an unskilled labourer, I now work independently, mostly in repairing or rebuilding the shelters of Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or destroyed during the 2014 conflict,” he added.

For Mohammad, the training was not only a chance to develop his own knowledge, but he also tries to transfer his new skills and understanding to his brothers who work with him in construction. “I also always encourage them to apply for a vocational training with UNRWA,” he explained.

The Gaza construction sector is the most important job-providing sector in Gaza, particularly for youth. In quarter four of 2015, real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reached US$ 502 million, a 12.7 per cent increase compared to the previous quarter, mainly due to private consumption as activity in the construction sector doubled because houses in Gaza could be repaired and rebuilt. In quarter one of 2016, UNRWA expended US$ 38.8 million across contracted projects and self-help assistance, generating a total of 11,373 full-time equivalents (FTEs) over one quarter.  US$ 25.3 million were disbursed for self-help repair and reconstruction only, contributing 7,411 of these FTEs.

Reconstruction activity in particular increased significantly, reflecting the highest level of quarterly disbursement since the start of the UNRWA self-help shelter intervention. Further, youth unemployment for the first time in two years declined to below 60 per cent in the last quarter of 2015 as the number of persons employed in the construction sector doubled.

Summary of major incidents

During the reporting week, Israeli forces reportedly fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 19 April, three Palestinians were reportedly arrested and their boats confiscated by Israeli forces. One injury was reported.

Protests in support of Al Aqsa mosque and the situation in the West Bank were held across Gaza and in the vicinity of the perimeter fence. Protests near the perimeter fence, involving approximately 110 persons, predominately youth, took place east of Bureij camp in central Gaza, east of Gaza city, and in the vicinity of the Erez crossing. During these protests, some participants approached the perimeter fence and reportedly threw stones towards Israeli observation posts. Israeli security forces reportedly responded with gunfire and tear gas. The Ministry of Health reported that five Palestinians were injured as a result, four of them reportedly from gas inhalation.

On 19 April, militants reportedly fired one rocket from central Gaza towards Israel; the rocket dropped short and landed inside Gaza area. No injuries or damage were reported.

On 24 April, militants fired one test rocket from northern Gaza towards the sea. No injuries or damage were reported.

Funding needs

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall, projected for 2016 to stand at US$ 81 million. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals. 

Following the 2014 conflict, US$ 247 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency shelter programme, for which an estimated US$ 720 million is required. This leaves a current shortfall of US$ 473 million. UNRWA urgently appeals to donors to generously contribute to its emergency shelter programme to provide displaced Palestine refugees in Gaza with rental subsidies or cash assistance to undertake repair works and reconstruction of their damaged homes.

As presented in UNRWA’s occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) Emergency Appeal for 2016, the Agency is seeking US$ 403 million to meet the minimum humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees in the oPt. The Agency requires US$ 355.95 million for programme interventions in Gaza, including US$ 109.7 million for emergency food assistance, US$ 142.3 million for emergency shelter assistance, US$ 60.4 million for emergency cash-for-work assistance, US$ 4.4 million for emergency health/mobile health clinics and US$ 3.1 for education in emergencies.

Read more in the 2016 oPt emergency appeal

Crossings

Longstanding restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza have undermined the living conditions of 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. Israel prevents all access to and from the Gaza Strip by sea and air. Movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza is restricted to three crossings: Rafah crossing, Erez crossing and Kerem Shalom crossing. Rafah crossing is controlled by the Egyptian authorities and technically allows for the movement of a number of authorized travelers, Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases only. Erez crossing is controlled by Israeli authorities and technically allows for the movement of aid workers and limited numbers of authorized travelers, including Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases. Kerem Shalom crossing, also controlled by Israeli authorities, technically allows for the movement of authorized goods only.

  • Rafah crossing remained closed during the reporting week. 
  • Erez crossing is usually open six days a week. It was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and international staff from 19 to 21 April and from 24 to 26 April. On 22 April it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 23 April.
  • Kerem Shalom crossing is the only official crossing open for the transfer of goods into and out of the Strip and is usually open five days a week. It was open from 19 to 21 and from 24 to 26 April. It was closed 22 and 23 April.
UNRWA launched the #DignityIsPriceless campaign in Gaza on 22 January 2018. © 2018 UNRWA Photo Rushdi Al Saraj
Join the #DignityIsPriceless campaign to stand up #ForPalestineRefugees