The Gaza Strip is home to a population of approximately 1.9 million people, including some 1.4 million Palestine refugees.
For the last decade, the socioeconomic situation in Gaza has been in steady decline. The blockade on land, air and sea imposed by Israel following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007 entered its 12th year in June 2018 and continues to have a devastating effect as access to markets and people’s movement to and from the Gaza Strip remain severely restricted. The UN Secretary-General has found that the blockade and related restrictions contravene international humanitarian law as they target and impose hardship on the civilian population, effectively penalizing them for acts they have not committed
Years of conflict and blockade have left 80 per cent of the population dependent on international assistance while the continuing intra-Palestinian divisions serve to exacerbate the humanitarian and service delivery crisis on the ground. The economy and its capacity to create jobs have been devastated, resulting in the impoverishment and de-development of a highly skilled and well-educated society. In 2018, the average unemployment rate has reached over 50 per cent – one of the highest in the world, according to the World Bank. The number of Palestine refugees relying on UNRWA for food aid has increased from fewer than 80,000 in 2000 to almost one million today.
Access to clean water and electricity remains at crisis level and impacts nearly every aspect of life in Gaza. Clean water is unavailable for 95 per cent of the population, and, availability of electricity improved only recently ,increasing from 4-5 hours per day in the past months to up to 12 hours per day by the end of October 2018. However, ongoing power shortage has severely impacted the availability of essential services, particularly health, water and sanitation services, and continues to undermine Gaza’s fragile economy, particularly the manufacturing and agriculture sectors.
Almost 600,000 Palestine refugees in Gaza live in the eight recognized Palestine refugee camps, which have one of the highest population densities in the world. Operating through over 13,000 staff in over 300 installations across the Gaza Strip, UNRWA delivers education, health and mental health care, relief and social services, microcredit and emergency assistance to registered Palestine refugees.
On 7 July 2014, a humanitarian emergency was declared by UNRWA in the Gaza Strip, following a severe escalation in hostilities, involving intense Israeli aerial and navy bombardment and Palestinian rocket fire for 50 days. The scale of human loss, destruction, devastation and displacement caused by this third conflict within seven years was catastrophic and unprecedented. While significant progress with regard to the physical reconstruction of Gaza has been achieved since 2014, the compounded effects of the blockade and repeated armed conflicts and violence continue to have less visible, but profound, psychological impact on the people of Gaza. UNRWA mounted an extraordinary emergency response which highlighted its unique position as the largest UN organization in the Gaza Strip and the only UN Agency that undertakes direct implementation.
As a result of the continued deteriorating socio-economic situation in Gaza, the blockade and widespread hopelessness among Gaza’s population, tens of thousands of Palestinians have since 30 March 2018 participated in largely non-violent “Great March of Return” demonstrations near the perimeter fence separating Gaza and Israel. As of 31 October, 171 Palestinians have reportedly been killed in the context of such demonstrations, while 24,362 have been injured, including 5,866 by live ammunition and 2,274 children requiring hospitalization. At least 13 children who attended UNRWA schools are among the fatalities. In addition, a number of limited escalations of hostilities have taken place, including the firing of rockets and mortars by Gaza-based militants and Israeli airstrikes. As of December 2018, there appears to be little or no progress with regard to intra-Palestinian reconciliation as well as negotiations between Palestinian authorities and Israel over a long-term cease-fire or reviving of the Middle East Peace Process.
In an environment of increasing needs and dependency, UNRWA has traditionally been perceived as a pillar of stability by 1.4 million Palestine refugees in Gaza. In recent years, UNRWA has made significant improvements to its services in Gaza as part of Agency-wide reform as, for example, in the fields of education and health care. Notwithstanding the Agency’s ongoing funding crisis, which has forced UNRWA in Gaza to take mitigating measures, particularly with regard to its emergency interventions, UNRWA continues to:
Figures as of 1 January 2018