Gaza Situation Report 178
17 January – 24 January 2017 | Issue 178
- UNRWA has a duty of care towards all its staff members and is committed to ensure their safety, security and well-being, and to manage their potential exposure to risks. To be able to fulfil its mandate and at the same time address the physical and psychological security and safety needs of personnel, the Agency has an internal Field Security and Risk Management (FSRM) system in place. The FSRM team seeks to provide leadership, training, advice and operational support on security and risk management with the aim to not only improve staff’s safety, but also to secure assets and ensure the neutrality and protection of UNRWA installations to support sustainable programme delivery. The FSRM team delivers this through a guard force, operations team, operations room for area staff and the FSRM training teams. In 2016 5,864 staff received training on different topics, such as what to do in case of a fire incident, how to evacuate an installation, and providing first aid. The FSRM also empowers and trains its staff on how to respond and deal with the mounting frustration, desperation and anger of the people of Gaza due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis; in extreme cases this despair can result in suicide attempts in front of UNRWA installations, and (violent) intimidation of front line staff. In addition, in 2016 also 2,645 staff – many of them UNRWA teachers - received training on Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) risk education. The FSRM is also responsible to ensure that fire extinguishers and first aid boxes are available and accessible in all UNRWA installations across Gaza.
- In 2016 the UNRWA Gender Initiative implemented the “Empowerment Programme for Female Heads of Households (FHH)” project; over 650 female heads of households benefitted from 18 training sessions on self-development, financial literacy and household management. Furthermore, 950 female graduates completed the three-month Young Women Leadership Programme (YWLP) focusing on management, Information Technology and advanced English; 621 female graduates accessed a three-month work placement as part of the YWLP. During the 16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) campaign in November and December 2016, the UNRWA Relief and Social Services and Education programmes, as well as the Gender Initiative and Communications office, provided a variety of activities, ranging from awareness sessions and training for teachers and students on early marriage, adolescent health, GBV and women’s rights and human rights, the launch of a radio programme in partnership with a local radio station, to open discussion forums on causes and consequences of GBV in Community-Based Organizations and Women Programme Centres across the Gaza Strip.
- The Gaza Strip is suffering from a humanitarian crisis, epitomized by cyclic violence and destruction, the chronic fuel and water crises and the glaring absence of any sustainable socio-economic improvements to the distressed economy. In 2016, 2,137 truckloads exited Gaza, a 58 per cent increase compared to the previous year, reports the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). Yet this remains just 14 per cent of what was exported in 2000; the large majority of exports consisted of agricultural produce, and hence revenues from agricultural exports increased by 80 per cent compared to 2015. However, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), revenues remain about half of those recorded in 2007, when the blockade on Gaza was imposed. Robust recovery of the agricultural sector in Gaza remains hindered due to quotas on quantity and variety allowed for export to Israeli markets, severe restrictions on imports of some agricultural inputs classified by Israel as ‘dual use’-items, such as fertilizers, wood panels and steel pipes and delays of the exit of fresh agricultural produce due to prolonged inspections at the only crossing for goods, Kerem Shalom in southern Gaza. Other obstacles are access restrictions for Palestinian farmers to their agricultural land located near the perimeter fence with Israel. Moreover, despite the fact that exports increased in 2016 compared to 2015, there was also little tangible impact on the economy as it came in the context of already severe economic degradation and exports of low value-added products while exports in sectors with economic potential, such as furniture, remain practically banned. While some furniture can be marketed in Israel, a ban on the import of wood planks – imposed in spring 2015 – decreased furniture exports to only 3.5 truckloads per month, compared to 10 before the ban.
- In an important step to help mitigate the water crisis in Gaza, during the reporting week the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) inaugurated a water desalination plant in Gaza. The plant has the capacity of producing 6000 cubic metre (m3) of potable water daily to provide around 75,000 Palestinians with safe drinking water in the southern Gaza Strip—about 35,000 people in Khan Younis and 40,000 people in Rafah. The goal is to double the capacity of the plant in the coming months through additional construction works. The project, which started a little over three years ago, was led in partnership with the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) and Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU). While the plant includes solar panels, it mainly relies on electricity. The chronic Gaza electricity crisis will thus be a challenge for the operation of the plant: Gaza residents receive usually between six and eight hours of electricity per day, yet in the past weeks electricity provision has decreased to barely three hours, and this in a context of cold winter temperatures. Since the imposition of the blockade on Gaza in 2007, Gaza also suffers from a water crisis which, in 2016, has been titled by the Time magazine as “ticking global-health time bomb”. With no perennial streams and low rainfall, Gaza relies almost completely on the underlying coastal aquifer. As groundwater levels decline, sea water infiltrates from the nearby Mediterranean Sea. Moreover, the aquifer gets contaminated by nitrates from uncontrolled sewage and fertilizers from the irrigation of farmlands. 96 per cent of the water from the aquifer is not safe for drinking without treatment. The availability of clean water is thus limited for most Palestinians in Gaza. Already in 2012, warned the UN in its Gaza 2020 report, some 90,000 cubic metre of raw or partly treated sewage had to be released daily into the nearby Mediterranean Sea and environment (almost 33 MCM per year), creating pollution, public health hazards and problems for the fishing industry. A new report by the Israeli organization Gisha titled “Hand on the switch” analyses the dire state of Gaza’s infrastructure and discusses the accountability for the current status.
During the reporting week, protestors, civilians and youth, expressed 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.
Various other protests were held during the week, predominantly against further electricity cuts.
During the week under review, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis. Four injuries – including three fishermen – were reported on different occasions.
Militants fired two test rockets towards the sea; no injuries were reported.
Unknown persons detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in front of a Fatah leader’s house in Gaza city. Minor damaged was caused. Another IED exploded under a vehicle belonging to a member of the Al Qassam Brigades (the military wing of the Hamas movement). One injury and minor damage were reported, and in a third incident, unknown persons threw a stun grenade in front of a Fatah leader’s house; the grenade caused damage to the house but no injuries. Further, a 27-year old Palestinian man was stabbed as a result of a family dispute; a 18-year old girl was seriously injured as a result from the mishandling of a weapon, and a 11-year old boy was found hanged inside his house; the background of the incident is unclear.
Suhair Al-Rass: Through my work, I help ensure the safety of staff and visitors
51-year-old Palestine refugee Suhair Al-Rass lives with her six-member family in Gaza city. For the last eight years she has been working as a guard at the Gaza Field Office (GFO) gate for the UNRWA Field Security and Risk Management (FSRM) team.
“When I got this job, it felt like a dream, because my husband doesn’t work so this job gives me and my family the opportunity to pay the rent, education fees and to cover all our needs,” Suhair explained.
Suhair is one of only 25 female guards working in different UNRWA installations such as Health Centres (HC), schools, Relief and Social Services Programme (RSSP) offices, sanitation offices and Distributions Centres (DC). Her main responsibilities as guard are to check visitors’ identity documents, register their data and guide them to the staff they wish to meet or have an appointment with.
“My work is much more than sitting in front of my computer and registering the visitors’ data, I carry the responsibility to help ensure the security of UNRWA staff and keep the compound safe. The most important qualification a guard needs is to be focused, observant and cautious. It’s important that all staff in GFO feel safe when they come to work and through my job I contribute to this,” Suhair added.
In total, UNRWA employs 1,473 guards – 185 as fixed term staff and 1,288 hired through its Job Creation Programme – working at more than 285 UNRWA installations including: Health Centres (HC), Head Quarter (HQ) and Gaza Field Office (GFO), Relief and Social Services Programme (RSSP) and sanitations offices, Distributions Centres (DC), Training Centres (TC), international residences and many other installations to ensure the safety and security of UNRWA staff and UNRWA premises across the Gaza Strip. Every guard, before being assigned to carrying out duties, receives a comprehensive training in safety and security rules and principles provided by the FSRM training team. This team was formed in early 2015 as a response to an assessment that identified a need to strengthen safety and security knowledge among UNRWA guards; the training empowers and enables them to respond to the various challenges they encounter in the course of their duties.
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. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s Programme Budget in 2017. 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 the Agnecy's occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) Emergency Appeal for 2017, the Agency is seeking US$ 402 million to meet the minimum humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees in the oPt.
The Gaza portion of the Emergency Appeal amounts to US$ 355 million for 2017, to address protracted, large scale humanitarian needs. Read the oPt Emergency Appeal for 2017.
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 travellers, 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 17 to 19 and from 22 to 24 January. On 20 January it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 21 January.
- 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 17 to 19 and 22 to 24 January. It was closed on 20 and 21 January.
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