Gaza situation report 167
18 October – 25 October 2016 | issue 167
“The UN has issued repeated warnings about the unsettling and serious conditions prevailing in the tiny enclave; we warned already four years ago that the Gaza Strip will become unliveable – meaning that there will effectively not be enough resources for people to survive – by 2020. If no fundamental and immediate action is taken to address the underlying causes of conflict such as the blockade which must be fully lifted, they will become reality; the catastrophe will not be looming on the horizon anymore.”
Bo Schack, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza. Read more here.
- The Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack, has written an opinion piece widely picked up by local and regional media. The op-ed reflects on the blockade of the coastal territory now entering its tenth year. Mr. Schack starts with a quote from 36-year-old Ali, who works as a waiter in one of the coffee shops in Gaza city. Ali was born in Gaza and for almost ten years he has been living under a tight blockade on air, land and sea. “I have survived the past three wars, but that is not the problem. In this place, wars come and go. The bigger struggle is not to lose hope. The only way I can do that is to retreat, and create my own world, and become oblivious,” Ali told Mr. Schack, who notes that the blockade keeps Ali and the rest of the 1.8 million people of Gaza isolated and locked into a tin y 365 square kilometres- enclave - the Gaza Strip has one of the highest population densities in the world - tormented by extreme poverty and dilapidated by repeated conflicts. Mr. Schack also talked about the impact of the blockade on the people of Gaza during a press conference held in Gaza city in the previous week, emphasizing how the severe restrictions lead to more frustration, pessimism and, possibly, radicalization. A video of the event can be viewed here.
- The UNRWA Gaza Training Centre (GTC) organized a graduation ceremony to celebrate the creativity and innovation of its students who completed various different technical and vocational training courses. The Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack, attended the event, together with other senior UNRWA staff, the 300 graduates and their parents. The ceremony also included an exhibition of the samples of the best work of students. In 2016, a total of 730 students will graduate from the GTC. At the same time, approximately 1,230 students started their technical and vocational training courses in the two UNRWA Vocational Training Centres in Gaza city and Khan Younis, southern Gaza, in September for the new school year 2016-2017, in addition to around 470 youth who started their apprenticeships in the local market after completing training at the Gaza Training Centre. In total, over 2,220 youth are currently getting trained in both training centres. Many students currently enrolled in the two training centres come from the most vulnerable families in Gaza: 50 per cent of all registered students are part of the Agency’s Social Safety Net (SSN) category – meaning those households that are living below US$ 1.74 per person per day; 29 per cent are categorized as Absolute Poor (households that live below US$ 3.87 per person per day). To date more than 22,000 students have completed the UNRWA Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programme.
- The Communications with Communities (CwC) team, part of the UNRWA Gaza Field Communications Office, is co-chairing, together with the International Organization Oxfam, the first CwC/accountability working group in Gaza. The group was established by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which previously established CwC working groups in other fields to coordinate community engagement activities to avoid duplication, exchange best practices and discuss technical issues. Other participants of the working group in Gaza include the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), local non-governmental organizations as well as representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs. The focus of the working group is threefold; to address the urgent information and communications needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Gaza through the analysis of available data on communications needs, the development of a sector-wide CwC (emergency) communications manual that serves to increase coordination and messaging of humanitarian actors in crisis and non-crisis situations, as well as to generally mainstream CwC practices across local and international organizations working in Gaza.
- The German broadcaster Deutsche Welle features an interview with the UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl, predominantly focusing on UNRWA’s work in Gaza and Syria. The Commissioner-General emphasized the psychological impact facing Palestinians in Gaza, as well as the delays in reconstruction resulting from the ongoing blockade. Krähenbühl added that the international community has to ensure that Palestine refugees are not forgotten: “If we had to reduce our education services for half a million Palestinian boys and girls in the region, that is not only a factor that affects their dignity and future prospects, but it’s also a factor that impacts regional stability.” The interview is accompanied by a short report showing the Agency’s efforts in Gaza in terms of reconstruction and food distribution. The filming for the German broadcaster team had been organized and facilitated by the Gaza Field Communications Office.
- On 19 October the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East. He stated that the international focus on the question of Palestine may have been overtaken by the tragedy in Syria and elsewhere in the region, but that it cannot be allowed to become a secondary problem. “The inability to see beyond the horizon and grasp the benefits of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, of ending the occupation, of establishing a two-state solution that meets the national aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis alike, is a historic loss to the region as a whole,” he stated. The Special Coordinator also mentioned that the absence of progress has led to frustration and growing anger among Palestinians, thereby reiterating the message of the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Bo Schack, given during a press conference on 17 October in Gaza. Mr. Mladenov also talked about his recent trip to Gaza during which he witnessed “warehouses, empty of construction materials, as the reconstruction process is significantly slowing down,” explaining that this is due to limitations of imports; no new residential reconstruction projects have been approved since March, he went on, adding that in the recent days the approval of some 80 projects – some of which had already been started - has been revoked by Israel. He finished his briefing by warning those “who believe that the people of Gaza can be punished by closures or by imposing restrictions on the entry of construction materials that are vital for the economy. They should know that the temperature in Gaza is rising.”
- In its Socio-Economic report of quarter two of 2016, the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) once again summarized the dismal status of the Gaza economy, suffocated by a more than nine-year long blockade. The real gross domestic product (GDP) in Gaza contracted by 4.8 per cent in quarter two compared to the previous quarter, and in quarter two the economy in Gaza constituted 24 per cent of the overall Palestinian economy, down from around a third in quarter one. Further, within one year the already stifled agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors in Gaza further contracted by 25.6 per cent in the second quarter this year, and the construction sector contracted by 11 per cent. With an average unemployment rate of over 41 per cent, as reported by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the public administration and defence sectors continued to be the largest employers of people in Gaza. Overall, the Palestinian account deficit increased to minus US$ 391.5 million or 11.6 per cent of GDP in quarter two of 2016 (from 8.4 per cent of GDP in the first quarter). The decrease was driven primarily by the higher goods and services trade deficit. Exports continued to be mainly destined to Israel. Similarly, the majority of imports continued to come from Israel. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 453 truckloads exited Gaza in quarter two of 2016, compared to 595 in the first quarter. In 2000, an average of 1,271 truckloads exited Gaza per month; in 2007, when the blockade was imposed, the number decreased to 481 per month and one year later to an average of only three per month.
The UNRWA Shelter Update
- During the reporting week, UNRWA was able to disburse over US$ 1.7 million for reconstruction (over US$ 951,000) and severe repair works (over US$ 759,000). The funds reached a total of 242 refugee families across Gaza; they were able to access their assistance this week.
A detailed shelter update will be provided in the next Gaza situation report.
- During the reporting week, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis.
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 teargas. One person was injured.
Various other protests were held during the week, in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails or to demand more services from UNRWA.
Israeli aircraft fired one missile targeting an observation post belonging to the Hamas movement in northern Gaza. No injuries were reported. Militants fired one test rocket from Gaza towards the sea, and one rocket from Gaza towards Israel; the rocket dropped short and landed inside Gaza. No injuries were reported. Four Israeli bulldozers entered approximately 50 metres into Gaza areas to conduct a clearing and excavation operation’; they withdrew on the same day.
A fire broke out inside a residential house in southern Gaza due to a short circuit. Four persons were injured. Further, gunmen in a car opened fired towards and killed a 47-year old man; the motive behind the killing is reportedly family revenge. In addition, two militants died in two different tunnel collapses.
“Don’t depend on others, start your own project”: Microfinance Programme supports self-reliance and independence of Palestine refugees amidst economic crisis
59-year-old Palestine refugee Fadwa Abu Shaieb lives in Al Tufah area, in eastern Gaza city. Since 2007, when she got her first loan, she has been a client of UNRWA’s Microfinance Programme in Gaza. Back in 2007, her business consisted of selling pets – mostly rabbits and birds – to Gazans. However, she lost all her animals during the 2008 conflict in Gaza, and her business went bankrupt. Four years later Fadwa tried again and received another loan from UNRWA to open an embroidery project.
“My husband has cancer, and I am the main breadwinner in the family. My business is our own income source – and it also provides income to my two married daughters as well as my two daughters-in-law, who all work with me,” Fadwa explained.
Fadwa uses the loans from UNRWA to buy raw materials out of which she produces products that she sells to re-sellers. Despite the collapsed Gaza economy and sky-rocketing high unemployment and poverty rates due to the Israeli blockade, her business improved over the years. While she worked alone in the beginning, today she can offer a small income source to four other women.
“Every month, I divide the money I earned into two parts: one part to buy more raw material and the other for my salary and the salaries of my daughters and daughters-in-law,” she said proudly.
Her own share Fadwa uses to pay for her husband’s medical treatment and to pay for the education of her children. In addition, three of her children have disabilities and require special and expensive food, equipment and treatment.
“I benefit from my business not only in terms of financial means, this project also gives me the chance to network, to get to know people and improve my trading and business skills. Other women recognize and appreciate me as a strong and independent woman. My advice to them: don’t depend on others, start your own project even if it is small and simple,” Fadwa said.
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 Microfinance Department (MD) disbursed almost 400,000 loans worth US$ 440 million; in Gaza alone, the MD issued over 112,000 loans worth almost US$ 132 million; approximately 41 per cent of the benefiting business owners are female and 28 per cent are 30 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".
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 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 open from 19 to 23 October for humanitarian cases and pre-registered Gazans. It was closed during the remaining days of 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 18 to 20 and 25 October. On 21 October it was open for pedestrians only and on 23 October it was open for international staff and urgent humanitarian cases only. It was closed on 22 October, and also on 24 October due to Israeli holidays.
- 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 18 to 20 and on 23 and 25 October. It was closed on 21 and 22 October, and on 24 October due to Israeli holidays.
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