1. Crisis overview
On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). A pandemic was declared by WHO on 11 March 2020. According to WHO, as of 16 March 2020, a total of 164,837 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported, in 146 countries and areas, including 6,740 associated deaths. At the time of writing, the surge in the number of cases and countries reporting cases is continuing, including in the Middle East. Many countries with advanced health systems are struggling to cope with the spread of the virus, raising serious concerns about the ability of those with weaker health systems to respond and provide the necessary care.
Cases of COVID-19 have also been reported in UNRWA area of operations. As of 16 March, 99 cases and three deaths had been reported in Lebanon, 38 cases in the West Bank and six in Jordan. No cases have yet been confirmed in Syria and Gaza. Israel has reported 200 cases, with local transmission now occurring, whilst other neighbouring countries are experiencing a surge in confirmed cases. This indicates that the risk of transmission is increasing. In order to contain the contagion, authorities have applied restrictive measures, limiting or banning travels to/from affected countries, requiring quarantine periods for individuals who have been in affected countries/in contact with cases, decreeing the closure of schools, universities and public places, and prohibiting large gatherings, sporting events and international conferences, among other things. Extensive border controls have been put in place in all UNRWA fields of operation.
Currently, all UNRWA schools and TVET centres, which have 541,000 students enrolled, are closed in all fields, in line with Host Country directives, as are two UNRWA teacher training institutions in the West Bank and Jordan.
As this health emergency continues playing itself out, risks for UNRWA grow larger by the day, in terms of the health and safety of the community of 5.6 million registered refugees UNRWA is mandated to assist and protect, and of its 30,000 staff. Moreover, constraints on refugee access to UNRWA services are severe.
This Flash Appeal covers the Agency’s immediate needs for a three-month period, i.e. from 1 March – 31 May 2020 (as of March 2020). UNRWA recognizes that the situation is evolving rapidly and that the status of preparedness and response varies across Agency fields of operation due to differing needs and capacities. These specificities are reflected in the initial response requirements included in this appeal, which will be updated as needed. This may include provision of material assistance to other vulnerable groups affected by the COVID emergency, as well as additional support for health interventions.