Cash-for-Work in Gaza: Supporting Households amid Rising Unemployment

15 May 2019
42-year-old Palestine refugee Tahani Ali, who lives with her seven-member family in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, received a three-month work opportunity as a labourer in an agriculture project as part of UNRWA cash-for-work programme. © 2019 UNRWA Photo by Ahmed al-Asmar

“Besides earning some income, this short-term job opportunity planting and picking strawberries allowed me to improve my skills in planting. With this experience, I am now ready to work in any farm and hope that I will find another work opportunity soon to keep supporting my family.” Tahani Ali is a 42-year-old Palestine refugee who lives with her seven-member family in Beit Lahia, Gaza and  is one of over 10,000 Palestine refugees in Gaza who were selected for a much sought-after short term work opportunity through the UNRWA cash-for-work programme.

As a result of the long-lasting blockade on Gaza some 80 per cent of Palestinians living in Gaza depend on humanitarian assistance. Poverty and food insecurity levels are increasing with overall unemployment and female unemployment peaking at 54.9 per cent and 74.2 per cent in  late 2018, respectively. Overall unemployment in Gaza stood at 52 percent in 2018. The Agency’s cash-for-work programme is one of its different interventions through which, UNRWA tries to mitigate the socio-economic hardships of Palestine refugees in Gaza. One of its projects is the strawberry project.

The UNRWA cash-for-work programme targets both skilled and unskilled workers as well as professionals. Priority is given to applicants from households who have been assessed as living below the poverty line of less than US$ 3.87 per person per day. Other criteria are gender, age, skills, or location. As part of the strawberry project, UNRWA provides 60 per cent of all job opportunities to women. Cash-for-work opportunities provide not only a source of income, but also help to restore self-respect, dignity and some form of self-reliance to thousands of Palestine refugees. The money earned through short-term job opportunities is mostly spent to cover basic needs such as medicine, fresh food, or clothes. “This is the first time for me to have a job opportunity within the UNRWA cash-for-work after applying for years. I am in dire need of this job so I can contribute to supporting my family,” says Ali.

In 2018, despite a severely constrained funding environmentand an increasing unemployment rate, the Agency was able to create short-term work opportunities for 10,139 beneficiaries in Gaza - a sharp decrease on the 19,695 created in 2017 - thereby injecting some US$ 8 million into the local economy. To address high levels of youth unemployment in Gaza, a sub-component of the cash-for-work programme – the Graduate Training Programme – offered 1,706 (out of the total of 10,139 jobs) opportunities to recent graduates in 2018. Approximately 260,000 Palestine refugees are registered on a waiting list to be considered for a temporary work opportunity under the UNRWA cash-for-work programme.