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An open letter from the Acting Commissioner-General of UNRWA to the Palestine refugee community in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,
As the Acting Commissioner-General of UNRWA, I would like to reassure you at this very challenging time that the Agency is being responsive and proactive to the evolving challenges of coronavirus (COVID-19). I am overseeing and coordinating UNRWA’s preparations and response and we are meeting daily, sometimes multiple times every day when the situation warrants. I have also established an emergency task force to discuss the planning, management and communication of our response. I am also in regular communication with all Directors in UNRWA’s fields and programmes.
The United Nations Secretary General stated last week that COVID-19 represents “the biggest challenge” to the UN in its history. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a pandemic and expects the situation to get worse before it gets better. I appeal to you all to remember that our behaviour at this time, as individuals, families and communities, will directly affect the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must take all possible steps to maintain personal hygiene, with a focus on handwashing and maintaining a distance from each other. This means avoiding spaces where people assemble, and postponing any family gatherings. We owe it to each other and particularly to those most vulnerable to the effects of the virus - older individuals or those with an existing medical condition – to follow these practices unfailingly. In addition, each of us must act responsibly and take immediate action if we experience flu-like symptoms, particularly a persistent cough and a fever.
As we all are aware, there is lots of information available on how to prevent transmission of the virus, but here I recommend that we all follow the guidance from the WHO. An important link in Arabic with reliable and regularly updated information can be found here: https://www.who.int/ar/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronovirus-2019/advice-for-public.
UNRWA is in close contact with host authorities, the WHO and other key actors involved in battle against coronavirus. We are also keeping our donors fully updated on our work and on Tuesday, 17 March, we launched a Flash Appeal to try to secure additional resources to meet the needs of Palestine refugees at this difficult time.
I would like to briefly update you on what UNRWA is doing in response to the crisis:
Our UNRWA Health Centres continue to operate to provide core health services and follow government recommendations towards reducing the transmission of COVID-19. It is important to note however that COVID-19 testing is done by the host government designated laboratories as part of the country-wide COVID-19 response. Triage care and protocols are in place to identify patients with respiratory symptoms. Other preparedness and risk mitigation measures have also been introduced: patients with Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) are receiving medicines to cover for a two-months prescription, to minimize their exposure to other patients. Solid waste collection is continuing in all of the camps and additional staff will be employed if necessary. While it is highly recommended to regularly clean touched surfaces like door handles, tabletops, floors and toilets, WHO has advised that general campaigns of disinfecting outdoor areas like streets, playgrounds, parks and similar public areas is not effective to combat spread of COVID-19. It is important to remember that COVID-19 is a respiratory disease and the key mode of transmission is via droplets.
Camp Services Offices remain open to continue their coordination work with the camp committees and to help mitigate the impact of any movement restrictions.The relief and microfinance services will similarly remain active, unless government restrictions require otherwise, although it is likely that services provided will be impacted. Cash assistance for those eligible under the Social Safety Net Programme (SSNP) and Emergency Cash Assistance will continue.
With schools closed for varying periods depending on the field, UNRWA is focusing on how best to ensure the continued education of its students. UNRWA has a successful Education in Emergency programme which includes a range of self-learning materials and here Fields are working on how best to scale up and further develop these materials. Similarly, the support provided to those students who are using self-learning materials is crucial and guidance to parents and teachers has been provided. Later on there will, of course, be a focus on how to further compensate for days lost to ensure that all UNRWA students can successfully complete the scholastic year. Furthermore, schools will not reopen unless they have a deep cleaning and are disinfected well before the return of the students.
I take this opportunity to thank all the UNRWA colleagues, both those on the front line, like our courageous health staff, and those who work tirelessly behind the scenes.
To all of you, your families and loved ones, stay safe and healthy during this worrying time. I pray that all of us get through this crisis together as we have got through many other crises in the past.
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