Gaza Situation Report 70
11-18 November 2014 | Issue 70
- The most critical intervention remains cash assistance for shelter repair, transitional shelter support and reconstruction of Palestine refugees’ homes. As of 17 November, 9,291 families benefited from cash support to undertake self-help shelter repairs and, if their homes are uninhabitable, from transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA). A total of USD 9.2 million was disbursed by UNRWA to undertake the repairs, including for 956 families requiring construction material imported under the new Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). A further USD 1.5 million was disbursed for transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA).
- As of 17 November, UNRWA’s construction and engineering personnel have assessed 65,087 dwellings, which is equivalent to three quarters of the 87,487 refugee homes confirmed impacted during the recent hostilities by the Agency’s Relief and Social Services Programme. Beneficiaries did not need to apply for assessments and assistance, as the Agency’s staff conducted assessments simultaneously throughout the Gaza Strip. However, until Thursday 20 November UNRWA will accept additional registrations for assessments to ensure no family living in an impacted dwelling is forgotten.
- UNRWA remains extremely concerned about the slow pace of reconstruction and its ability to continue TSCA and the shelter repair & reconstruction programme through 2015. Both interventions require donor support for cash assistance which is only secured until the end of this year. Shelter repair and reconstruction also requires relative stability and construction material on the market. The biggest challenge facing UNRWA in Gaza is uncertainty: uncertainty about the political future and thus the security environment and about the pace and scale of reconstruction. UNRWA has the technical capacity to implement a large-scale reconstruction programme in Gaza if resources are available, the situation is stable and materials can be imported, but the ongoing political vacuum and lack of clarity on the future bring into question the international community’s willingness to fund yet another rebuilding of Gaza. The lack of clarity on the political and security front makes medium and longer term programme planning difficult. Civil unrest remains a significant risk, with UNRWA a likely target of public anger.
- Almost three months have passed since the ceasefire was announced on 26 August. In October, after 50 days of unprecedented destruction in Gaza, the visits of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah of the Palestinian Government of National Consensus and of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the wake of the pledges of the Cairo Conference were signs of hope and potential positive change. Since then there were no major positive developments. The new government, formally in place since 2 June 2014, is yet to assume effective power in the Gaza Strip. Tangible improvements on the ground, notably reconstruction, are pivotal for its success, as well as the predictable payment of civil servant salaries. Staff hired under the former de facto government received their last full salary in October 2013, and no salary since April 2014. Since August several payments have been made to civilian staff, including a humanitarian payment facilitated by the United Nations. It is reported that the security apparatus also received a payment in November. On 12 November, some 200 Civil Defense staff held a demonstration in Gaza demanding the payment of salaries. A general strike was announced for 18 November in protest against the Palestinian national consensus government’s failure to pay the salaries.
- Simply relying on "quiet for quiet" will lead to more violence in the future. The blockade fuels instability, de-development and conflict, and makes the next escalation just a matter of time. The Israeli blockade on Gaza needs to be lifted, and transfers to Gaza’s traditional markets in the West Bank and Israel need to be allowed. Palestinians need access to markets, to fishing areas and land. Freedom of movement must be permitted. There are some positive indications from Israel with regards to work permits and transfers of goods to the West Bank, including the widely reported transfer of vegetables and fish. Whilst this might indicate a potential policy alteration vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip, these measures fall far short of demands for a full lifting of the blockade. So far in 2014, only 88 truckloads of selected agricultural produce were allowed to exit Gaza, the vast majority for international markets, compared to 5,007 truckloads of a wider range of goods delivered to the West Bank, and to international markets, including in Israel, in the first half of 2007 when export of goods from Gaza was permitted. In its Foreign Affairs Council conclusions of 17 November, the EU reiterated its calls “for a fundamental change of the political, security and economic situation in the Gaza Strip, including the end of the closure. The parties should urgently make progress towards a durable ceasefire, based on their agreement in Cairo on 26 August, to reach an agreement that ends the Gaza closure and addresses Israel’s legitimate security concerns. A return to the status quo prior to the latest conflict is not an option.”
- Sustainable recovery in Gaza requires far more than rebuilding what has been destroyed in summer. Lifting the blockade and addressing Gaza’s structural challenges and increasing needs resulting from rapid population growth, are key elements and the basis for a re-development process that offers economic opportunities and a sense of safety and security for the people of the Gaza Strip. At the UNRWA Advisory Committee meeting held in Amman on 17 and 18 November, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said: “The focus now is on rebuilding Gaza. We welcomed the Cairo Conference and the significant pledges made. These need urgently to be transformed into actual disbursements. We welcomed Prime Minister Hamdallah’s visit to Gaza in early October. Ongoing leadership by the government of national consensus is needed to ensure that the reconstruction can take place. A genuine commitment by Israel is also required to enable the needed material to be brought to Gaza. For the time being the process is much too slow and largely ineffective. Should this continue we will reach the winter with no progress in rebuilding the homes of the many still displaced, including those still in UNRWA schools. The people of Gaza deserve much better and much more than that.”
- The summer hostilities represent a major setback to all UNRWA programmes, ongoing reforms and new initiatives seeking development opportunities in the context of the blockade. This includes initiatives targeting unemployed educated youth in the Gaza Strip, such as the Gaza Gateway. The Gaza Gateway is a social enterprise, using UNRWA's own IT projects as models to attract outsourcing employment to Gaza. Losing two months of productivity and facing a weakened competitive environment, the Gaza Gateway has turned its focus to the role of technology within reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. In the coming year, the Gaza Gateway will deliver services to UNRWA's Educational Management Information System project, which is part of the UNRWA Education Reform, and unify UNRWA's databases of beneficiary data to better prioritize Gaza's needs. These projects will hopefully prove that Gaza can still deliver competitive commercial services. The Gaza Gateway's approach was rewarded with a positive visit from KOICA, the Korea International Cooperation Agency, on 17 November, which is considering support to the Gaza Gateway's private sector launch in 2015. KOICA's representatives were introduced to Project Associates from some of Gaza's most damaged neighborhoods. These young IT professionals discussed the Gateway as a platform for their ambitions.
- A World Bank Group report concluded that students attending UNRWA schools in Palestine and Jordan are achieving higher-than-average results in international assessments such as TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), despite the challenging and adverse circumstances they live under. The report, “Learning in the Face of Adversity: The UNRWA Education Program for Palestine Refugees”, highlights how a resilience approach that includes effective classroom practices of teachers, strong school leadership, assessments and shared accountability for learning, can support adaptability and performance in high-risk contexts. “UNRWA schools have created a distinguished learning community centered on the student,” said Harry Patrinos, World Bank Group Education Practice Manager for the Middle East and North Africa. “UNRWA students perform better than their peers in public schools despite their socioeconomic disadvantages and parents’ education, which seems to be compensated by students’ self-confidence, parental support and involvement in school activities.” With nine of ten schools run on double-shifts and tremendous efforts undertaken to get the education programme restarted after the summer hostilities, UNRWA in Gaza is currently confronted with very particular challenges but is nevertheless committed to the UNRWA Education Reform. The School Based Teacher Development Programme (SBTD), a key dimension of UNRWA’s Education Reform Strategy, seeks to improve teaching and learning practices in the UNRWA classrooms through developing interactive pedagogies or ways of teaching that will engage children more effectively in their learning. The SBTD is paving the way for comprehensive in-service training for all UNRWA teachers. Over the reporting period, SBTD sessions were held for 2,508 teachers in Gaza and the Middle Area.
- This week, amongst other activities which include staff training to improve gender based violence (GBV) awareness, detection and response within the Agency’s GBV referral system, UNRWA’s Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) continued its recreational activity sessions for UNRWA students, as well as individual and group counseling sessions. CMHP also continued to work with teachers on classroom based psychosocial interventions and conducted sessions for parents.
- The Director of UNRWA Operations, Robert Turner, on 12 November was invited to address the Executive Board of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) during a presentation of its State of Palestine Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation Plan in Rome, Italy. Mr. Turner provided member state board members with an outline of how the partnership between UNRWA and WFP, in all five fields of operation and corporately, is based on a clear understanding of the agencies differing mandates, comparative advantages and cost-effectiveness.
- 18 UNRWA school buildings continue to serve as Collective Centres for 25,414 IDPs. Under the responsibility of the UNRWA Collective Centre Management Unit (CCMU), UNRWA continues to provide for the essential needs of the displaced, including food (62,314 food rations over the reporting period, with WFP continuing to provide bread, milk and beans), potable water (5 litres per person per day), non-potable water, psychosocial support and participatory hygiene campaigns to promote a healthy living environment in the Collective Centres. The hygiene committees also organized recreational and support activities for almost 3,000 children. As winter approaches, the CCMU continued the distribution of mattresses, blankets and mats to 1,705 IDP families in Khan Younis and the Middle Area.
Operational environment: The general atmosphere in Gaza remains tense. There is an increase in demonstrations and sit-ins demanding UNRWA to accelerate its reconstruction efforts. An unclear timeframe around reconstruction and the workings of the Government-led Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism are proving frustrating for affected families. UNRWA remains a likely outlet for public anger, partially as a result of incitement by various factions. On 13 November, in a massive rally staged by the Hamas movement and attended by some 20,000 people at a stadium in Rafah, senior officials blamed UNRWA and the National Consensus Government for the alleged slow pace of shelter assessments and reconstruction.
On 11 November, around 350,000 liters of fuel, funded by the Qatari government, were delivered for the Gaza Power Plant (GPP), allowing it to resume partial operations and produce some 60MWs. Following the resumption of GPP operations, electricity is provided 16 hours per day on average in an eight-hour-cycle (8 hours on – 8 hours off – 8 hours on).
Life in an UNRWA collective centre: waiting for a better future
Thirty-four-year-old Inshirah Fathi is a Palestine refugee from the Shujaya neighborhood, one of the oldest and largest neighborhoods of Gaza City, which was severely damaged during the summer hostilities. Inshirah and her family were forced to flee their severely damaged home in mid July. Inshirah, her husband Nihad and their four children took refuge in the nearby Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City. “Our house was severely damaged, and we escaped to a neighboring house, then we took refuge at the church,” said Inshirah. “We fled the church when the adjacent church cemetery was bombed. We then took refuge at the UNRWA Rimal Preparatory Girls School in August 2014.”
Family Fathi was poor before the war, and trapped in the cycle of unemployment, poverty and aid dependency which became so typical for Gaza with its once flourishing private sector. The Israeli blockade on Gaza, which virtually bans exports, destroyed the economy and its capacity to create jobs. Now they are still poor but also homeless, and still taking refuge in one of the 18 UNRWA Collective Centres. Nihad, Inshira’s husband, used to work as a casual laborer in farms and earned some USD 100 per month. Nihad said: “Prior to the war, it was very hard for me to provide for my family as I did not have a decent income.” In the second quarter of 2014, the Palestine refugee unemployment rate surged to 45.5 per cent, the highest level ever recorded. Nihad’s case is representative for so many in Gaza: even if some are lucky enough to secure a job the income is not sufficient to provide for a decent standard of living. The Fathi family is classified as abject poor according to the Agency’s Poverty Survey, which makes them eligible for in-kind food assistance. Nihad also had the chance to get three short term job opportunities under UNRWA’s Job Creation Programme (JCP) over the course of several years prior to the war.
At the UNRWA Collective Centre, the family receives meals, hygiene supplies, mattresses and blankets. Their children also received stationary at the beginning of the new school year. Inshirah said: “I appreciate the aid we get from UNRWA at the collective centre, but I would rather live in my own apartment. I want to maintain my privacy and live my life with my family as we always did.” Nihad comments on what his wife said: “I wish our home will be rebuilt soon. I also want an end to the blockade so that I can get a job. I want to earn my living so that I will not need assistance any more.”
Summary of Major Incidents
There is a noticeable increase in firing at fishermen by the Israeli navy, which was reported on seven separate occasions. IDF fire against Palestinian farmers was reported on one occasion. Over the reporting period eleven Palestinians were arrested when trying to cross into Israel. Several demonstrations in public squares and outside UN and other installations were reported during the week. Two test rockets were reportedly fired from Gaza towards the sea on two separate occasions.
The Agency has concluded assessments of its damaged UNRWA installations, with a total of 118. Repair work is ongoing.
UNRWA is seeking USD 1.6 billion for emergency relief, early recovery and reconstruction priorities in the Gaza Strip. More information can be found here (PDF). The same information is available in Arabic here (PDF).
- Rafah crossing remains closed since 25 October.
- Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 11-13 November and from 16-18 November. On 14 November the crossing was open for pedestrians only. On 15 November, the crossing was closed.
- Kerem Shalom was open from 11-14 and on 17 and 18 November. The crossing was closed on 15 November.
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