24 January –31 January 2017 | issue 179
Activities in January 2017:
Disbursement of payments:
During the week under review, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On one occasion Palestinian militants opened fire towards Israeli troops at the perimeter fence; the Israeli troops responded by firing two shells targeting a Hamas observation post. The post sustained damage.
Various protests were held during the week, predominantly in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails; a sit-in was staged by a few dozen former UNRWA personnel, demanding fix-term contracts.
On 24 January, a beneficiary attempted to burn himself in front of the UNRWA Tuffah Distribution Centre in Gaza city; UNRWA staff members intervened and prevented him from harm.
Eight Israeli bulldozers entered Gaza on two different occasions to conduct a clearing and excavation operation; they withdrew on the same day.
Strong winds and rain resulted in the damage (mostly through the partial or full collapse of the roof) of 12 residential houses and one sports club across Gaza; seven injuries were reported. The outbreak of fire in two different houses, one due to a short circuit and the other due to the explosion of a gas cylinder, led to four further injuries and damage to the houses.
Five Palestinian men were arrested by Israeli troops on four different occasions after they attempted to enter Israel through the perimeter fence. A 27-year old Palestinian was found dead inside a pool in a private chalet. The background of the incident remains unclear. During a family dispute fire arms were used and one person was injured. Further, a passer-by was injured by gunshots exchanged during clashes between the police and a criminal. Unknown persons detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on front of a Fatah leader’s house; the house sustained damage. Lastly, two Palestinian men were injured as they accidently set off a hand grenade.
Due to the continued blockade on Gaza, which entered its tenth year in mid-2016, the tiny coastal enclave suffers from a chronic electricity and fuel crisis. The people of Gaza usually receive only between six and eight hours of electricity per day, and since the beginning of 2017, this rate dropped to only around three hours per day. This is amidst cold winter temperatures, as stated in a new report from the Israeli organization Gisha, titled “Hand on the switch.”
The report states that on a good day, Gaza’s electrical grid supplies 208 megawatts (MW), of which 120 MW are sold and supplied by Israel, 60 MW are produced by the local power plant (if enough fuel comes in from Israel, that is; the plant needs 350-360,000 litres of diesel daily to produce this amount), and 28 MW more are sold by Egypt. This supply falls far below demand, which is currently 350 to 450 MW. The lack of supply affects not only individuals, but also the overall civilian infrastructure, such as health and education services.
To reduce the pressure and reliance on Gaza’s electricity grid, decrease the negative impact of the use of fuel on the environment (through the use of back-up generators), and to seek a durable and sustainable solution to the energy crisis, UNRWA has started to look into alternative energy sources.
“UNRWA in Gaza operates and manages over 250 installations, including schools, health centres, distributions centres and warehouses, and so we need and consume a big amount of electricity on a daily basis. Alternative energy sources are becoming more and more important to us,” explained Ayman Al-Roubi, the assistant head of the construction division in the UNRWA Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP).
UNRWA started to install solar energy systems - planned as back-up energy resources - in its installations in 2015. Currently 80 schools and three Health Centres are furnished with solar panels, and under its emergency preparedness project, the Agency is installing solar energy systems in 50 additional schools planned to function as Designated Emergency Shelters. After completing the works in these 50 schools, the percentage of UNRWA installations equipped with solar panels will reach 30 per cent. If funding will be available, UNRWA plans to install solar systems in all of its premises in the coming years.
While sunlight is abundant and widely available in the Gaza Strip, the production of renewable energy has been limited by Israeli import restrictions of so called ‘dual use’ items which also include solar panels and batteries that would allow storing energy, as Gisha reports. As humanitarian organization UNRWA can import this equipment through negotiated agreements with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). Another obstacle for a wider use are high prices associated with solar panels and batteries; in addition, as the report states further, Israel’s control over the Gaza crossings also means dependence on it for shipping equipment out for repairs, having experts come in to do repairs or provide training, and travel by engineers and others from Gaza to attend meetings and seminars to acquire the relevant expertise.
“Initially, installing solar panels created some challenges for us, since our staff was not experienced in the works with solar panels, and our installations were not designed to function with solar energy,” confirmed Ayman the Gisha report’s findings.
Yet the Agency quickly adapted to the new system and adjusted its installations to receive solar panels, for example through additional works on the roofs, the building of battery rooms or by adjusting electricity and water networks.
Moreover, two UNRWA electrical engineers were able to receive an Israeli permit to leave Gaza and participate in advanced training in PV (photovoltaic system) technology in Japan, provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency; upon their return, they built the capacity of an additional 13 engineers in the Agency.
“To spread our knowledge even wider and build the capacity of the community, our engineers are also regularly coaching members from the Gaza private sector,” confirmed Ayman.
With its increased focus on alternative energy sources, UNRWA contributes to achieving the UN Sustainable Development goals, for example number seven – affordable and clean energy.
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 UNRWA’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 UNRWA 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.