Gaza situation report 153
12 July – 19 July 2016 | issue 153
“Let’s remember that we were born innocent in an occupied country. Some of us lose their lives, some get injured, some lose their parents or relatives. Experiencing three devastating wars is enough to understand what is happening here. Despite all of that, I struggled hard with strong determination to finish my studies and make my dream come true.”Mohammad Al Kafarna, member of the UNRWA Gaza central school parliament. Learn more here.
The Microfinance Department in Gaza organized its first trade fair to display the products and services from 41 different small and microenterprises run by Palestinians benefitting from UNRWA microfinance loans. Services and business types ranged from food manufacturing, sewing, embroidery and accessories, banners and advertisement printing shops to fiberglass and aluminum workshops. The event took place in the UNRWA Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Impaired (RCVI) in Gaza City and lasted for three days from 18 to 20 July 2016. The trade fair was a unique opportunity for the participants to display their products and services to the broader community in Gaza, including customers, potential partners and traders. Furthermore they had the chance to interact with other financial and lending institutions and to discuss ideas of developing or expanding their businesses. The trade fair was held under the patronage of the Deputy Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Sandra Mitchell, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Microfinance Department in UNRWA. Senior UNRWA staff, donor representatives, as well as representatives of international organizations operating in Gaza and representatives of the industry unions in Palestine were present at the opening of the fair.
The UNRWA Health Programme (HP) organized a workshop on diabetic foot examination for 96 medical officers, practical nurses and staff nurses in the Rimal Health Centre in Gaza city. The training took place from 25 to 28 July and covered topics related to the pathogenesis of a diabetic foot, including practical diabetic foot exam. The UNRWA HP also regularly conducts awareness sessions on diabetes for the community, aiming at providing information and knowledge related to healthy lifestyles such as the importance of physical activity, unhealthy diets, or symptoms of diabetes and how to live and take care of persons with non-communicable diseases (NCDs). It is recognized that the main cause of death and illness among Palestine refugees are NCDs such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. In Gaza, high diabetes rates are a direct result of the disruption to economic and social activity which allows malnutrition and infectious diseases to co-exist with non-communicable health conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Forced urbanization, over-crowding and the related psycho-social stress can aggravate these diseases. The ever-increasing cost of diabetes care is a big challenge given the Agency’s scarce resources. Data for 2015 revealed that out of the total expenditure on medicines by UNRWA, 51 per cent was spent on medicines for the treatment of NCDs.
In recent years, the longstanding shortage of adequate sanitation infrastructure in the Gaza Strip has resulted in the discharge of around 90 million litres of untreated or partially treated sewage into the sea every day, posing serious health and environmental hazards, as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports. Development of water and sanitation infrastructure has been severely impacted by the import restrictions imposed by Israel in its blockade of the Gaza Strip, now in its tenth year. OCHA reports that at present, several key WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) items such as pumps, drilling equipment and disinfectant chemicals are on the Israeli “dual use” list, meaning that entry of such items to Gaza is severely restricted. This situation is exacerbated whenever there is a reduction in the already limited electricity supply, which further impacts the quality of the sewage being released into the sea. Reductions in the electricity supply occurred extensively during April and May 2016 when the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) was shut down or operating minimally. This was due to a shortage of fuel needed to run the plant, triggering up to 20 hours of blackout a day, the report states further. The contamination of seawater poses a serious health risk to those using beaches as recreational sites, particularly during the summer, and to those consuming seafood obtained from the areas most affected. A recent joint assessment by the Environment Quality Authority, the Civil Defense and the Ministry of Health in Gaza indicated that 52 per cent of the Gaza seashore is severely polluted and unsuitable for swimming, including nearly 90 per cent of the shore in Gaza City. The precarious nature of existing facilities and power shortages also generates a constant threat of sewage flooding in areas adjacent to reservoirs and pumping stations. UNRWA has highlighted the human impact of the devastating water and sanitation situation in Gaza through its ongoing “real stories, real lives” campaign against the blockade.
In June, UNRWA completed one L-type school in Ma’an, Khan Younis. Located in the southern Gaza Strip, the building will operate on two-shift basis accommodating refugee students from grades one to nine in two school buildings. The schools will be attended by 1,400 students. Forty-one infrastructure projects worth US$ 72.6 million, including two components of an infrastructure project implemented in all camps in the Gaza Strip, are under implementation. At present, the total value of UNRWA projects approved by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is US$ 232.8 million. Five projects entered the coordination phase (i.e. the phase during which UNRWA begins import of materials to Gaza for a given project) in June. For more information please consult the attached June 2016 UNRWA Construction Update.
On 10 July 2016, UNRWA commenced the third round of food distribution this year, lasting until the end of September 2016. As of 20 July, over 93,000 beneficiaries received their new and improved food baskets including wheat flour, rice, dried milk powder, chick peas, lentils, sugar and canned sardines for Social Safety Net beneficiaries. In total, over 930,000 refugees will receive the Agency’s food assistance. The new food baskets were for the first time distributed in the second distribution round this year (April – June 2016); a video explaining the new UNRWA food baskets in detail to Palestine refugees is currently broadcast on UNRWA TV and its corresponding YouTube channel and can be watched here. UNRWA Gaza Communications also produced a new cooking show based on the new UNRWA food baskets in addition to a promotional episode featuring UNRWA students and the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack (all episodes are in Arabic). All recipes are based on the ingredients of the new food baskets, with a view to provide UNRWA beneficiaries with creative and low-cost ideas on how to use the food basket items. UNRWA provides a food basket to all eligible refugee families on a quarterly basis. The Agency adheres to a poverty targeting mechanism to identify eligibility for food assistance and Palestine refugees in Gaza receive food assistance following their poverty assessment. An animation video explaining the UNRWA poverty assessment system to its beneficiaries can be viewed here.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territory, Mr. Robert Piper, has published an opinion piece on the humanitarian impact of a divided Palestinian government. In the article, Mr. Piper states that besides 49 years of occupation and nine years of blockade on Gaza, the long-standing divisions between Fatah and Hamas are making things worse for Palestinians, particularly for those in Gaza. Due to the ongoing divisions, many of the basic rights and needs of the people of Gaza such as health, education, water or municipal services and social welfare– already devastated by occupation policies – are suffering. The ongoing crisis has left tens of thousands of government workers in Gaza without full pay since May 2014. Taking the health sector as example, Mr. Piper states that over 40 per cent of Ministry of Health employees, including doctors and nurses, have not been paid their full salaries regularly since May 2014; coordination between Ramallah and Gaza on the supply of essential drugs and medical supplies has become precarious with shortages of pharmaceuticals being a main reason for referrals outside. The situation has a profound effect on ordinary Palestinians trying to get health care inside Gaza. It means waiting as long as 24 months for elective surgery and long delays for diagnostic procedures, like tissue sample diagnostics for cancer patients. It means long waiting-lists for interventions to treat chronic if non-life threatening diseases which can also mean a deterioration in general health. In some cases, the article states, patients have to live with chronic ailments, unnecessarily, while operating theatres are available but lying idle, unstaffed and underequipped. The overarching solution to the humanitarian situation in Gaza is a political one, beyond the realm of humanitarians, states Piper: “Nine years [of blockade] is too long. Band-Aid solutions have run their course. Palestine needs to reunify under a democratic Government. The costs of failing to do so are spiraling, and they are hitting the most vulnerable citizens hardest. The UN is standing-by to help in any way we can but the starting-point lies elsewhere.”
The UNRWA shelter update
- During the reporting week UNRWA completed the payments to 19 families for the reconstruction of their totally destroyed homes. Almost 1,000 more families are currently receiving payments to reconstruct their totally destroyed houses.
Overview of assistance disbursed
As of 20 July 2016:
Completed and ongoing payments
As of 20 July 2016:
- UNRWA has completed the payments to over 67,000 refugee families for minor repair works, to 3,254 families to repair their severely damaged shelters, to 13 families for major repair works, and to 179 families for reconstruction.
- Payment transfers for over 11,460 refugee families to continue repair works of their shelters and for almost 1,000 families to continue the reconstruction of their shelters are ongoing.
- UNRWA continues to pay transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA) for eligible refugee families still displaced by the 2014 conflict. Approximately 8,500 eligible families have received the first tranche of rental subsidy payments for 2016, and approximately 6,800 families received the second quarter payment. In 2015, UNRWA paid TSCA to approximately 9,000 eligible refugee families and from September to December 2015 13,250 families received rental subsidy payments.
Funding gaps and needs – reconstruction
UNRWA has secured funding to reconstruct 2,000 totally destroyed homes. Funding is currently not the biggest barrier to reconstruct homes, rather it is the complex documentation requirements related to proving title to land, obtaining building and municipal permits and finalizing building design coupled with UNRWA vulnerability targeting. For all reconstruction, UNRWA prioritizes families based on poverty status (an excellent indicator for vulnerability in this context) and larger families, unlike other reconstruction actors in Gaza. In order to mitigate this barrier, UNRWA outreach engineers assist eligible families in gathering relevant documentation. With the increase in reconstruction momentum anticipated in the coming months, funding will become a key factor again in the near to medium-term future.
As of 20 July 2016:
- Payments to 6,303 refugee families to start repairing their totally destroyed homes are outstanding.
- The total costs of reconstructing their homes amounts to approximately US$ 283.6 million
Funding gaps and needs – rental subsidy payments
As of 20 July 2016:
- Approximately 1,700 eligible refugee families still displaced by the 2014 conflict have not received transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA) for the second quarter in 2016. The US$ 23.3 million in TSCA needed to assist the 2014 conflict emergency caseload in 2016 has been included in the oPt Emergency Appeal 2016.
Funding gaps and needs – repair works
For repairs of damages of all categories (minor, major and severe), the principal barrier to completing the outstanding repairs is funding. If current conditions remain, including adequate amounts of building material entering Gaza, UNRWA estimates that repairs could be completed within six months from receipt of sufficient funding.
As of 20 July 2016:
- Over 60,150 families have not received any payments to undertake repair works for their minor damaged homes (total estimate repair costs: US$ 67.9 million).
- 3,192 families have not received any payments to repair or start repairing their major damaged homes (total estimate repair costs: US$ 28.7 million),
- Payments to 1,109 families to repair or start repairing their severely damaged homes are outstanding (total estimate costs: US$ 9.9 million). Out of these, UNRWA has processed the documents of approximately 56,900 families with damaged shelters and could disburse payments (first and second tranche payments) to these families immediately upon receipt of funding
Regular protests took place during the reporting week, predominantly in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails or, by the Hamas movement, in solidarity with the Turkish government. Protests also took place against UNRWA to demand rental subsidy payments and job opportunities.
On 12 July a 30-year old Palestinian male was reportedly kidnapped by unknown masked persons in Jabalia camp, northern Gaza. The kidnapped person is reportedly a member of the Fatah movement. He was reportedly released on the same day after being beaten. The police reportedly opened an investigation.
On 15 July a 45-year old Palestinian female reportedly died due to an electrical shock inside her house in Rafah, southern Gaza.
On 17 July a dispute reportedly took place between two families in Gaza city; they reportedly used fire arms and two injuries were reported. The police reportedly made several arrests.
On 12 July a Palestinian reportedly threw a homemade pipe bomb towards a gathering of members of the Fatah movement in Gaza city during an internal elections process. The police reportedly arrested the perpetrator and no injuries were reported.
On 12 July an Arab Israeli citizen reportedly entered into Gaza through the perimeter fence in southern Gaza. The background of the incident remains unclear.
On 15 July a 20-year old Palestinian male reportedly committed suicide by throwing himself off a third floor building in eastern Gaza city.
The first UNRWA microfinance department trade fair in Gaza:
“We are not just clients, we are partners”
Mahmoud Al Refai is exhibiting his products during the UNRWA microfinance trade fair in Gaza city. Photo credit: © UNRWA Gaza 2016. Photo by Rushdi Al-Saraj.
Under the slogan “25 years toward self-reliance” the UNRWA Microfinance department celebrated the 25th anniversary of its establishment with the organization of a trade fair in the UNRWA Rehabilitation Centre for Visually Impaired (RCVI) in Gaza city. The fair lasted from 18 to 20 July and over 40 different UNRWA-supported Palestinian micro businesses exhibited their services and products.
“We are not just clients, we are partners. And we are proud of our projects supported through the UNRWA Microfinance Programme,” commented Samira Muhisin, one of UNRWA’s clients and partners, during the opening ceremony.
32-year old Mahmoud Al Refa’i from Bureij camp in central Gaza was one of the 41 participants who showed their products in the trade fair. Seven years ago Mahmoud opened a clothing shop with an UNRWA loan, and in 2015 he received his second loan to enlarge his business: “I don’t want to feel that I rely on others because of my disability; I want to be a productive member of the community, and I want to be independent,” he commented. “My clothing shop is the main source of income for me and my family, and I think no one else than UNRWA would have supported me in the beginning,” he added.
Another exhibitor at the fair was 38-year old Sabrin Wafi who established a home-made pastry business with the help of UNRWA. “I used the first loan to buy raw material and equipment to get my project started,” she explained.
And Sabrin was successful. When she first started her business her daily income was around US$ 50; today, seven years later, she doubled it to almost US$ 100.
UNRWA launched the microfinance initiative in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in the early 1990s and expanded operations to Syria and Jordan in 2003. Since 1991, the MD disbursed almost 400,000 loans worth US$ 440 million; in Gaza alone, the MD issued over 114,000 loans worth almost US$ 148 million; approximately 43 per cent of the benefiting business owners are female and 13 per cent are 24 years old or younger. With its credit products, UNRWA targets the needs of the entrepreneurial and unbanked sector of the community, including low-income Palestine refugees and working class families, to give them a chance to improve their living conditions and provide for health and educational needs of their families. The MD also provides fresh graduates, university students and professionals with different technical training, some of which focus on "Job Hunting", "Project Management" and "Gender Awareness".
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 12 July a 27-year old Palestinian was injured in one such incident in northern Gaza. On 15 July Egyptian forces reportedly opened fire towards Palestinian boats in southern Gaza. No injuries were reported.
On 15 July approximately 50 civilians, including youth, held a protest near the perimeter fence east of Gaza city and east of Bureij camp in central Gaza, expressing their eagerness to defend Al Aqsa Mosque and in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank. Some of the participants reportedly approached the perimeter fence and three stones towards Israeli observation posts. Israeli forces reportedly responded with gunfire and tear gas. The Ministry of Health reported three Palestinian injured, one from gas inhalation.
On 13 July five and four bulldozers entered approximately 200 respectively 100 metres into northern Gaza in two separate incidents, reportedly to conduct a clearing and excavation operation. They reportedly withdrew on the same day.
On 13 July militants reportedly fired three test rockets from southern Gaza towards the sea. No injuries were reported.
On 17 July militants reportedly fired one test rocket from northern Gaza towards the sea. No injuries were reported.
On 17 July clashes reportedly erupted between police forces and residents in north-eastern Gaza city when the police, reportedly accompanied by a number of bulldozers, started to remove the encroachments onto the streets as per decision of the Gaza municipality. The police reportedly fired into the air to disperse the residents. One person was reported injured and several were arrested.
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$ 74 million. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
Following the 2014 conflict, US$ 257 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$ 463 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. More information can be found here.
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 was closed during the reporting week.
- Erez crossing is usually open six days a week. This week it was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and international staff from 12 to 14 July and 17 to 19 July. On 15 July it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 16 July.
- 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 from 12 to 14 July and from 17 to 19 July. It was closed on 14 and 15 July.
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