Gaza situation report 159
23 August – 30 August 2016 | issue 159
“Once upon a time, there was a girl lying in her bed, suffering from a serious disease. While she was looking at a tree nearby her window, she asked her elder sister: how many leaves are left on the tree?”
From the story “Hope Creates Miracles” written by Manar Abu Amona. Read more here.
- On 26 August 2016, two years have passed since the ceasefire which ended the most devastating round of hostilities in Gaza since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967. The UN Country Team in the State of Palestine published a report titled “Gaza: Two Years After” which provides a snapshot of the progress and challenges made in the last two years in terms of reconstruction and recovery. The report summarizes the situation in Gaza in regards to shelter and reconstruction, water and electricity, health care, and livelihoods, against the context of the blockade now in its tenth year and repeated cycles of armed violence. To understand key factors that influence reconstruction and recovery, the report states, the large-scale destruction caused in the 2014 conflict needs to be seen against the backdrop of high population densities, a rapid population growth, and the scarcity of land available for productive use due to the blockade, among other factors. During the conflict, half a million people – 28 per cent of the Gaza population – were displaced, seeking shelter and safety in UNRWA schools, government shelters or with extended families. When the hostilities ceased, 100,000 persons were unable to return home as their houses had been totally destroyed or severely damaged. To date, two years after, 65,000 of them remain displaced, meaning only 35 per cent of the persons who remained displaced after the conflict were able to return home (for the UNRWA shelter update click here). The main reasons obstructing accelerated reconstruction are, according to the report, funding, access and flow of material (lifting of the blockade), and planning and coordination between Palestinian stakeholders. “Desperation is pervasive” writes the Israeli organization Gisha in its Two years: 360 degrees online platform which tries to look at the situation in Gaza not only in terms of physical reconstruction, but also at the overall policy by Israel in respect to the enclave and what steps could be taken to improve life on the ground.
- On 28 August over 263,220 students started the school year 2016-2017 in 267 UNRWA schools across Gaza - an increase of 13,100 students compared to last year. The rising numbers of students visiting UNRWA schools - together with an overall growth in needs – puts pressure on the Agency’s programmes and services. To accommodate the students and provide them with an adequate learning environment, over the past year UNRWA has ensured the maintenance of its school buildings, including improved access to water and sanitation, continuous electricity supply, and any rehabilitation of premises. In addition, from January to July 2016 UNRWA completed the (re)construction of 14 new school buildings, creating new space for thousands of students. In the first school week, the Agency also distributed stationary packages to all students, ensuring that all of them are appropriately equipped for their classes.
- Extremely high unemployment rates in Gaza – 41.5 per cent in average and over 61 per cent for youth - fuel feelings of desperation and fear for the future among the people in the Gaza Strip, caused also by recurrent conflicts and the blockade, now in its tenth year. The lifting of the blockade is a prerequisite to accelerate recovery in Gaza and create employment and prospects for the enclave’s youth. As a mitigation measure, UNRWA runs several employment-related programmes, the most important of them being the Job Creation Programme (JCP), or cash for work. Through this programme the Agency provides livelihood opportunities, supports communities, and injects cash into the local economy and stabilizes struggling businesses. In 2016, if sufficient funding is available UNRWA plans to offer short-term employment opportunities for approximately 45,879 Palestine refugees. The programme targets both skilled and unskilled workers as well as professionals. UNRWA also addresses high unemployment through its Graduate Training Programme by opportunities for Gaza’s young people. Priority is given to applicants from household who are living below the poverty line of less than US$ 3.87 per person per day. For more information on the JCP, please consult the attached fact sheet.
- In another effort to improve its services to Palestine refugees through technology, on 29 August UNRWA launched EMIS – the Education Management Information System. The new Agency-wide system was developed by a Gaza-based project team and will be used in every school in UNRWA to capture a range of timely, specific information about individual students and teachers to better support analysis at all levels – from school to Areas, to Field to Head Quarters - and in this way supports evidence-based policy making. It will provide access to disaggregated data at all levels of the education programme and will serve as an important source of information for understanding and reporting on the overall performance of the system. The current system is either paper-based or each field utilizes a stand-alone computerised system. Both means do not provide sufficient information. The EMIS captures information on individual children as they enter school and progress from one grade to the next. It will integrate information on school premises, students, class sections and staff through strong linkages with other UNRWA data systems, such as the FMIS (Facility Management Information System,) RISS (Registration information System), E-Health, and Human Resource systems.
- On 25 August 2016 UNRWA placed the first corner stone of what will become its largest logistics base in the Gaza Strip. An inauguration ceremony was held to mark the occasion at the construction site in Rafah, southern Gaza. The ceremony was attended by the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack, UNRWA Senior External Relations and Project Officer, Mr. Munir Manneh, the Palestinian National Coalition Government Minister of Public Works and Housing, Dr. Mufeed Al Hasayna, as well as other UNRWA senior staff, representatives of other UN agencies, local Palestinian officials and community representatives. The base will serve as UNRWA’s main warehouse for the storage of its basic food and non-food items. It will also support distribution activities through 12 Distribution Centres across Gaza for the Agency’s beneficiaries. Further, the logistics base will be used as maintenance workshop and fuel station for UNRWA’s operations in the southern governorates of Gaza. The logistics base is expected to be completed in September 2017 and will operate with approximately 200 UNRWA personnel, including persons hired through the Job Creation Programme.
- 300 young women celebrated their graduation from the Gender Initiative’s “Young Women Leaders Programme (YWLP)” this week. The celebration was organized by the graduates themselves and offered an opportunity to apply their organizational skills and to work in a team, but also to go on stage, display self-confidence and participate in performances such as drama, singing or giving speeches. The YWLP is designed to empower and build the capacity of unemployed young female (and male) graduates between 22 to 28 years old through training and work placements. It also aims to close the skills gap between the labour market ensuring women are developing transferrable skills and experience. Through leadership and self-development coaching, advanced training in computers, English and management - combined with work placement schemes - the programme enhances the employability and self-confidence of young women graduates. The GI organizes two graduation ceremonies for young women every year, and one for the lower number of male graduates every three years. The unemployment rate for female youth is with 80 per cent in quarter two of 2016 (and 77.1 per cent for female youth refugees) the highest among all social groups in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
- The results of a new survey conducted by the Fafo institute with youth in six Middle Eastern countries – Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Palestine - point to a fragmented Palestinian society unable to engage its youth. The report titled “Are young Palestinians disengaged, or merely dissatisfied?” states that just one in 10 young adults in Palestine say they can trust their dealings with other people – with the number dropping to one in 20 in the Gaza Strip. This 10 or five per cent trust level is very low compared to for example 33 per cent in Morocco. When it comes to public institutions, 30 per cent of Palestinian youth expressed “quite a lot” of confidence, 35 per cent said the same for the police and 39 per cent for courts. However, little trust was expressed for central governments, with only 27 per cent expressing confidence and only 8 per cent said they had confidence in political parties and 12 per cent in the parliament. At first sight, these findings indicate alienation and disinterest in politics. Yet as the report states, the survey needs to be seen in the context of restrictions on and lack of space for political action. Secondly, particularly in regards to Palestine, youth often create alternative arenas for engagement and social activities away from traditional activism, also due to a sense of powerlessness and cynicism, and loss of hope in traditional means. UNRWA in Gaza increasingly tries to engage young people in operational conversations by helping to amplify their voices and ensuring their input into programmes and projects through communications with communities (CwC) activities and communications for development (C4D) projects.
The UNRWA Shelter Update
- UNRWA was able to disburse over US$ 2.7 million for reconstruction (US$ 2,290,904) and severe repair works (US$ 416,500). The funds will reach a total of 329 refugee families across Gaza; they will able to access their assistance this week.
Overview of assistance disbursed
As of 30 August 2016:
Completed and ongoing payments
As of 30 August 2016:
- UNRWA has completed the payments to over 67,060 refugee families for minor repair works, to 3,527 families to repair their severely damaged shelters, to 14 families for major repair works, and to 287 families for reconstruction.
- Payment transfers for over 10,700 refugee families to continue repair works of their shelters and for over 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. All approximately 8,500 eligible families have received the first tranche of rental subsidy payments for 2016, and all approximately 8,000 eligible families received the second quarter payment. In 2015, UNRWA paid TSCA to approximately 9,000 eligible refugee families and from September to December 2014 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. Reconstruction has been delayed due to import restrictions for construction material as a result of the blockade, complex documentation requirements related to proving title to land, obtaining building and municipal permit, as well as funding shortages: only 40 per cent of the US$ 3.5 billion pledged for Gaza’s reconstruction has been disbursed by donors as of mid-2016. 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 the barriers these families face in particular, UNRWA outreach engineers assist eligible families in gathering relevant documentation.
As of 30 August 2016:
- Payments to 6,112 refugee families to start repairing their totally destroyed homes are outstanding.
- The total costs of reconstructing their homes amounts to approximately US$ 275 million
Funding gaps and needs – rental subsidy payments
As of 30 August 2016:
- Approximately 7,000 eligible refugee families still displaced by the 2014 conflict are waiting to receive transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA) for the third 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 30 August 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).
- 3,694 families have not received any payments to repair or start repairing their major damaged homes (total estimate repair costs: US$ 33.2 million).
- Payments to 1,086 families to repair or start repairing their severely damaged homes are outstanding (total estimate costs: US$ 9.7 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 to demand salaries from the Palestinian Authority and in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Incidents related to social tensions continued to be reported. A 29-year old woman was shot and killed by her brother in Beach camp, in western Gaza city. The perpetrator was arrested. A 40-year old man was found hanged inside his house and a 21-year old man was found killed inside a chalet. Two family disputes involving the use of fire arms and edged weapons were reported, in one of them one person was killed and one injured. In addition, unknown persons assaulted the elections campaign coordinator of Fatah movement and he had to be transferred to a hospital for treatment.
- During the reporting week, Israeli forces also fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a regular basis. On one occasion militants fired four mortar shells towards Israel. In one shooting incident, a 30-year old male was injured by Israeli forces and on one occasion clashes erupted between Palestinian militants and Israeli patrol boats after the latter had fired towards fishermen. One fisherman was injured and arrested by Israeli forces; two other fishermen were arrested by Israeli forces in a different incident, and one Palestinian was arrested while he tried to enter Israel through the perimeter fence.
- Further, civilians, mostly youth, continued to protest near the perimeter fence expressing their eagerness to defend Al Aqsa Mosque and in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank. When some of them approached the perimeter fence and threw stones towards Israeli observation posts, Israeli forces responded with gun fire and tear gas; three injuries were reported. Six Israeli bulldozers entered approximately 50 meters into Gaza to conduct a clearing and excavation operation; they withdrew on the same day. Palestinian militants fired one rocket towards Israel; the rocket dropped short and landed inside Gaza.
Back to school: Happiness mixed with ongoing memories of loss and destruction
UNRWA sees education as a major investment in dignity, human development and a measure of stability for Palestine refugees. The Education Programme in Gaza is UNRWA’s largest and despite the fragile situation, lack of infrastructure and financial constraints, on 28 August over 263,200 students were able to start their scholastic year 2016-2017 on time.
According to the “Gaza: two years after“ report by the United Nations Country Team in the State of Palestine, during the 2014 hostilities 252 schools were damaged while seven schools were completely destroyed in Gaza. Out of them, a total of 83 UNRWA schools were damaged as a result of the conflict, including seven schools used as designated emergency shelters for internally displaced families that were directly hit during the conflict. All damaged schools have been repaired and are fully operational, the completely-destroyed UNRWA school has been reconstructed, and work is currently ongoing on the remaining six completely destroyed schools.
For the new school year, there are around 8,530 dedicated UNRWA teachers who facilitate the education of Palestine refugee students in 267 schools in all five areas of the Gaza Strip, led by 247 school Principals and 265 Deputy School Principals.
“The children seem to feel happy to be back to school, and they feel comfortable as the building is very clean and has new furniture,” commented Mohammad Zaqout, the School Principal of the UNRWA Rimal Preparatory Boys A school, which is one of the 14 new schools UNRWA constructed in the past seven months to accommodate all the students - over 13,000 more compared to last year.
15-year old Yousef Shunbari is one of the students visiting the new UNRWA Rimal Preparatory Boys “A” school. During the 2014 conflict, Yousef lost all his family members except one sister. He also lost his home which was totally destroyed during the hostilities. He is now living in an orphanage in Gaza city.
“I often dream about the old days, before the conflict. I wish I could go back to my old school, with my old friends. I miss them all,” Yousef said.
According to the UN, a total of 7,000 students whose homes were totally destroyed or severely damaged during the conflict faced difficulties to complete their studies as the $21 million requested to cover their expenses (e.g. transportation, stationary, school uniforms) have not been made available. Many students have been affected by the psycho-social impact of long-term or ongoing displacement and the shock of losing family, home and friends.
Also 14-year old Ala’a Siam lost his home during the hostilities, yet fortunately he did not lose his family. He is one of the 65,000 persons who remain displaced to this day, and he lives with his family in a rented home, supported by UNRWA through the payment of transitional shelter cash assistance.
“When I saw my home completely destroyed, I was shocked. I remember I saw my appreciation certificates under the rubble, and I said to myself: why should I work hard and study if everything is lost,” he commented.
Reconstruction of homes has been delayed due to import restrictions for construction material as a result of the blockade, complex documentation requirements related to proving title to land, obtaining building and municipal permit, as well as funding shortages, states the “Gaza: two years after” report. The World Bank announced that only 40 per cent of the US$ 3.5 billion pledged for Gaza’s reconstruction has been disbursed by donors as of mid-2016.
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$ 96.5 million. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s Programme Budget. 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 23 to 25 August and 28 to 30 August. On 26 August it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 27 August.
- 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 23 to 25 August and from 28 to 30 August. It was closed on 26 and 27 August.
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