Where We Work
The Gaza Strip has a population of approximately 2.1 million people, including some 1.4 million Palestine refugees. For at least the last decade and a half, the socioeconomic situation in Gaza has been in steady decline.
A blockade on land, air and sea was imposed by Israel following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007. The blockade continues to have a devastating effect as people’s movement to and from the Gaza Strip, as well as access to markets, remains 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 2020, the average unemployment rate stood at 49 per cent – one of the highest in the world. The number of Palestine refugees relying on UNRWA for food assistance has increased from fewer than 80,000 in 2000 to more than a million today.
Access to clean water and electricity remains at crisis level and impacts nearly every aspect of life. Clean water is unavailable for 95 per cent of the population. Availability of electricity improved only recently, increasing from 4-5 hours per day in the past months to up to an average of 14 hours per day as of April 2021. 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.
Eight recognized Palestine refugee camps span the Gaza Strip and have some of the highest population densities in the world. Operating through over 13,000 staff in over 300 installations across the besieged coastal enclave, 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 socioeconomic situation in Gaza, the blockade and widespread hopelessness among Gaza’s population, on 30 March 2018 tens of thousands of Palestinians began participating in the largely non-violent ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations near the perimeter fence separating Gaza and Israel. As of 31 October 2018, 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 were among the fatalities.
In addition, a number of limited escalations of hostilities have taken place, including Israeli airstrikes and, in retaliation, the firing of rockets and mortars by Gaza-based militants. In May 2021, an 11-day escalation in hostilities killed more than 200 Palestinians in Gaza, including over 60 children, among them 19 UNRWA students. You can read their names here and find more information from OCHA oPt.
In an environment of increasing needs and dependency, UNRWA has traditionally been perceived as a pillar of stability by 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:
- Improve the academic achievement, behaviour and values of school students.
- Provide critical primary health care to patients, including psychosocial support, as well as screening and treatment of non-communicable diseases and healthy lifestyle education.
- Construct desperately needed infrastructure, including schools and shelters Improve the quality and targeting of its food and cash assistance to the poorest of the poor.
- Promote gender equality and human rights for all.
Figures as of May 2021
REFUGEE CAMPS IN the Gaza Strip
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