Gaza Situation Report 179
24 January –31 January 2017 | issue 179
- The UNRWA communications with communities team, part of the Gaza Field Communications Office, has launched its first comic drawing workshop in cooperation with a Community-Based Organization in Gaza city. Approximately 25 young graduates from all areas of Gaza are participating in the training which will last for one month and focus on topics such as early marriage and Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Comic drawing is a form of story-telling, and through story-telling UNRWA attempts to empower and provide persons (directly affected or others) with a platform and a voice to advocate for change and support inside their community and beyond. After the training, the comics will be made available to the public through social media. Ending GBV is a top priority for achieving the UN’s founding mission of peace, development and human rights. It is also a top priority for UNRWA. According to the latest figures from UN Women, some 35 per cent of women and girls worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Palestine refugee women and girls are, unfortunately, not immune. The contexts in which UNRWA operates – marked by so many forms of conflict - makes protecting women and girls from GBV particularly challenging. Women often bear the brunt of a general psychosocial distress among the people of Gaza. UNRWA is committed to continuous advocacy and awareness-raising activities on these topics.
- The UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl visited Gaza which is one of three Headquarter locations of UNRWA. Among many other meetings and activities, during the week under review he met with the UNRWA central school parliament to better understand and hear from them about their living conditions, challenges as well as aspirations for the future. Besides individual meetings with UNRWA programme chiefs, the Commissioner General also met senior area and international staff in a town hall meeting to discuss 2017 planning priorities. Other activities on his busy schedule included meetings with refugee representatives, writers and opinion makers and refugee families. He also visited the recently inaugurated water desalination plant in Gaza.
- 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. The mounting frustration, anger and hopelessness of the people of Gaza has contributed to an increasing sense of distress and despair. According to a statement by the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, reported suicide attempts in Gaza increased from two in 2009 to ten in 2016, with two attempts were already registered in the first month of 2017. In response, the UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) - which already maintains a network of counsellors and psychosocial facilitators in UNRWA’s 267 schools as well as 23 counsellors and five legal advisors in its health Centres - is developing area response teams that will provide crisis intervention services for individuals as well as incident support in schools. CMHP is also continuing to train more staff in risk assessment and safety planning. In addition to direct interventions for students through counselling sessions, the programme is developing training for UNRWA teachers to better identify and support children in distress as well as to educate parents on how they themselves can enhance support for their children.
- To improve environmental health and create short term employment opportunities, the UNRWA Job Creation Programme (JCP) implemented a cleaning campaign in the Jabalia camp and surrounding areas, located just north of Gaza city. The campaign aimed at removing sand, dust and garbage from the camp’s streets, particularly in front of UNRWA schools to improve access for students in light of the beginning of the new school semester on 1 February. The Agency hired 20 labourers and two foremen for this project which was implemented in cooperation with the UNRWA sanitation office which provided the required equipment such as trucks and caterpillars. In total, over 100,000 beneficiaries living in the camp benefited from the campaign. Between January and December 2016, UNRWA created job opportunities for approximately 21,348 beneficiaries through the JCP injecting US$ 15.27 million into the Gaza economy. Of the total jobs, approximately one third were awarded to women and over 6,744 to young adults (between 18 and 26 years of age).
- To establish a foundation of the International Cluster Coordination Group (ICCG) for 2017 and to strengthen team cooperation, on 30 January the ICCG organized a retreat for its members in Gaza city. The programme included presentations by guest speakers, workshops as well as team exercises. UNRWA cluster foal points were also present at the meeting, and a representative from the UNRWA communications with communities (CwC) team, part of the Gaza Field Communications Office, was asked to participate in the session on “accountability to affected persons”, aiming to better include affected populations perspective and engagement in ICCG work through discussing practical steps forward in CwC. The UNRWA CwC team is also co-chairing the first CwC/accountability working group in Gaza – which reports to the ICCG – with a focus on the information and feedback needs of internally displaced persons. CwC is an approach within the field of humanitarian response that helps to meet the information and communications needs of people affected by protracted and acute crises. Through CwC, UNRWA and other organizations provide beneficiaries greater access to the information they need and ensure that their voices are heard and taken into account in decision-making processes related to the provision of humanitarian services.
Activities in January 2017:
- The reconstruction of 172 totally destroyed homes was completed
- Repair works for 2,029 housing units were completed
Disbursement of payments:
- The first instalment of reconstruction assistance was disbursed to 240 refugee families who had been approved in the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism in December 2016
- In total UNRWA disbursed approximately US$ 13.5 million for various forms of shelter assistance, including:
- For reconstruction: US$ 4,316,320
- For repair works: US$ 5,758,840
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.
Mitigating the impact of the Gaza electricity crisis: UNRWA installs solar panels on its premises
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.
- Rafah crossing was open from 28 to 30 January. 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 24 to 26 and from 29 to 31 January. On 27 January it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 28 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 24 to 26 and 29 to 31 January. It was closed on 27 and 28 January.
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