20 January - 27January | Issue 77
- Due to lack of funds, UNRWA has been forced to suspend its cash assistance programme supporting repairs and providing rental subsidies to Palestine refugee families in Gaza. Some money does remain available to begin the reconstruction of totally destroyed homes. According to the Agency’s assessments to date, over 100,000 Palestine refugee dwellings were damaged or destroyed during last summer’s conflict and more than US$ 720 million is required to address this need. While donors have generally been generous in supporting UNRWA’s emergency programme in Gaza, the Agency has received only US$ 135 million in pledges for its shelter programme, leaving a shortfall of US$ 585 million. In a press statement to communicate the suspended programme, highlight its ramifications and call for more funding, UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, Robert Turner said: “It is easy to look at these numbers and lose sight of the fact that we are talking about thousands of families who continue to suffer through this cold winter with inadequate shelter. People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble; children have died of hypothermia. US$ 5.4 billion was pledged at the Cairo conference last October and virtually none of it has reached Gaza. This is distressing and unacceptable.”
- UNRWA has been a stabilizing factor in a very challenging political and security context and if it cannot continue the cash assistance programme, there will be grave consequences for affected communities in Gaza. The Agency urgently requires US$ 100 million in the first quarter of this year to allow families to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies, including to the thousands of families who left UNRWA-run Collective Centres (CCs) and found alternative rental accommodation. The Agency is gravely concerned that if it cannot continue to provide rental subsidies, large numbers may return to the CCs, where almost 11,000 displaced Palestinians continue to seek shelter. This also has implications on UNRWA’s ability to provide adequate education for more than 240,000 refugee children, as many students have to travel to alternative schools whilst their regular building remains in use as CC. This is far from ideal and is also an additional financial burden for families who need to pay for the student’s transport each day.
- To date, details of almost 60,000 damaged Palestine refugee homes which require construction material not available on the local market have been shared by UNRWA with the Ministry of Public Works for their action through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). The GRM is increasingly working well for repairs but work is still required to accelerate the reconstruction process for totally destroyed homes. The list of family names of those eligible to access construction material is made available by the Ministry at the following link: http://www.mpwh.ps/. At the time of reporting, 28, 534 of UNRWA’s cases were listed. Based on data provided to UNRWA, 21,310 Palestine refugee families have received materials through the GRM.
- The effects of the most recent conflict continue to be seen in children across the Gaza Strip. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, approximately 43.2 per cent of the population in Gaza is aged 0-14 years. Based on data collected and verified by the UN in Gaza, including UNRWA, on average, more than 10 Palestinian children were killed in Gaza every day during the summer 2014 hostilities. The average first-grader in an UNRWA Gaza school has never left the 365 square kilometre coastal enclave due to the blockade in place since 2007, and has witnessed three major military escalations. Recurrent emergencies have resulted in cumulative impacts on children as well as their caregivers, including limiting their capacity for resilience and coping mechanisms, exacerbating existing risks and threats, creating new ones, and undermining protection structures. In the months after the temporary cease fire reached on 26 August 2014, significant negative changes in children’s behaviours, in particular boys, as well as in caregivers, have been identified by UNRWA, primarily due to psychosocial distress. During and in the aftermath of the summer hostilities, UNRWA Gaza is paying particular attention to any early warning signs of violence, neglect, abuse or exploitation against Palestine refugee children and ensuring that a systematic and coordinated programmatic response, tailored to the particular needs of girls and boys, is provided. UNRWA is undertaking such activities, where necessary, through collaborative inter-agency efforts.
- With children still trying to cope with and make sense of their experiences during recent hostilities, recreational and psychosocial support activities remain important and are being integrated into children’s learning experience as part of an ongoing process. Ninety percent of the 252 UNRWA schools in Gaza are run on a double shift basis, and some even on triple shift. As a result, refugee children in Gaza receive a severely truncated education and have little or no opportunity to engage in recreational or creative pursuits. UNRWA is grateful for the continued support of donors to its ongoing education and community mental health programmes that attempt to address these issues and support students in Gaza.
- According to OCHA reports, in mid-January, the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) operated the third turbine out of four, following the receipt of financial assistance from the government of Qatar for the purchase of fuel, increasing the production level to 90 megawatts. This is the first time in over 18 months that the GPP was able to reach this level, leading to a decrease in the daily scheduled power outages across the Gaza Strip from a high of 18 to 12 hours. To run the three turbines the GPP requires over 450,000 litres of fuel per day. The operation at this level is challenged by the current shortage of fuel storage capacity, which is limited to less than 1.5million litres, as much of the storage capacity was destroyed during the summer conflict. Power cuts continue to disrupt the routine provision of basic services, which are forced to depend on back-up generators. This has a particularly debilitating effect on the health sector in Gaza.
UNRWA continues to provide shelter and basic services to almost 11,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in 15 Agency-run Collective Centres (CCs). As part of its ongoing winterization plans, UNRWA will expand its hot meal programme in CCs from twice a week to a full week’s coverage from the first week of February. The food assistance approach will target most vulnerable families currently residing in UNRWA CCs and provide more diversity in terms of hot meals. During the reporting period, UNRWA, in collaboration with the Norwegian Refugee Council conducted training for more than 60 participants on shelter management for its CC management teams. The training targeted shelter managers and teams in all CCs, focusing on topics such as humanitarian standards, protection of IDPs and delivery of assistance in CCs. Municipalities from all five Governorates also participated in the training.
Operational environment: The situation in Gaza remains unpredictable. Whilst reconstruction is happening through the Government-led Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, it is at a pace much slower than what is needed. Many families are living in damaged dwellings and risking their lives in the cold weather and at the risk of Explosive Remnants of War sitting amongst the rubble. The security situation in Gaza remains unpredictable and politically unstable. Regular local protests and demonstrations have become the new norm. Payments to former de facto government staff who have not seen full salaries for over one year, continues to be a challenge. Whilst Palestinian Authority (PA) staff were regularly paid until November, reliable sources indicate that only sixty per cent of PA salaries were paid on Monday 20 January, while 100 per cent of the PA retirement salaries were paid on Tuesday 21 January.
Amongst the demonstrations during the reporting period was a protest in Shejaya area on 23 January regarding the blockade on Gaza, and demanding faster reconstruction; sit-ins at the Gaza Harbour on the 21st and 25th – the first being children calling for constructing a seaport and lifting the blockade on Gaza and the second the National Committee Against the Siege requested a waterway process between Gaza and outside parties; a sit-in on 26 January outside the ICRC Office, reportedly in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and on the same day, a Gaza Journalists Syndicate sit-in out the front of UNSCO’s Office, in protest of alleged violations by Israel against journalists during the 2014 summer conflict.
Innovative housing project puts roofs over the heads of Gaza’s displaced
An UNRWA pilot housing project has delivered a welcome home to the Ashqar family in the Gaza Strip
Eight-year-old Aseel Al Ashqar fiddles quietly with a worn, pink blanket she has laid on the floor of the empty new bedroom in downtown Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, she now shares with her four siblings. The holes in the blanket she explains, are a consequence of a bomb that also wiped out her family home during the 50-day summer conflict last year. She found the blanket buried in the rubble.
According to UNRWA assessments, at least 100,000 Palestine refugee family homes were damaged or destroyed during last summer’s conflict. Finding adequate shelter amidst a crippling housing shortage in the Gaza Strip has put enormous stress on refugee families such as Aseel’s.
During the war, Aseel and her family took refuge at UNRWA’s Jabalia school of Abu Husein, in the north of Gaza. They stayed there for several days before renting a cramped flat far away from their home, in unfamiliar Al Saftawi area, Gaza City. But the movement of Aseel and her family into a new home last Wednesday January 21, represents hope for many.
They are one of ten families benefitting from an innovative new UNRWA pilot housing project involving encouraging landowners to complete partially finished dwellings to increase the stock of housing units in Gaza. Under the project, landowners with unfinished buildings are given financial support to complete construction to house an internally displaced family.
“We are very glad to move to Beit Hanoun after we spent five months out. Now, my children will go to their original school in Beit Hanoun which is only 300 metres away from the rented flat,” said Aseel’s mother, Maysa. And it has also proven a win for the landowner. “This is very fruitful project; I managed to finish two flats after getting USD $ 6,000 each, more over it created jobs for labourers and skilled labourers,” said the Ashqar’s new landlord, Hasan Al Za’anin.
As for Aseel’s response to her new home: “This flat is very beautiful, it is more beautiful than the previous rented one. I returned to my home town to play with my cousins and meet my friends at my original school.”
SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS
During the reporting week, there were a number of incidences of the IDF opening fire towards Palestinians near the fence and at Palestinian boats. On 23, 24 and 26 January, militants fired test rockets towards the sea. On 23 January, Egyptian patrol boats opened fire towards Palestinian boats infiltrated to the Egyptian sea shore. One Palestinian was injured, another was arrested and the boat was confiscated. On 27 January, there were incursions of IDF bulldozers of approximately 150 metres in Khan Younis and Rafah, where IDF troops conducted levelling and excavation operations.
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 ( English ) and here ( Arabic ) .
On 9 December, UNRWA launched the oPt Emergency Appeal in Geneva. For its emergency operations in Gaza, the Agency is seeking USD 366.6 million, including USD 127 million for emergency shelter, repair and collective centre management, USD 105.6 million for emergency food assistance, and USD 68.6 million for emergency cash-for-work. More information can be found here.