17 January 2012 Gaza City
I thank you for attending today’s launch of the 2012 Emergency Appeal. Since the outbreak of the al Aqsa intifada in 2000, UNRWA has issued Emergency Appeals to respond to the humanitarian consequences of this and subsequent conflicts in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Today marks another significant event. Three years ago to this day, following three-weeks of intense armed conflict, the Gaza war of 2008/2009 ended. However, the effects of this war still persist today and the humanitarian needs of the women, men, and children of Gaza remain widespread and acute.
Despite an easing of access, Gaza remains under a blockade and its population subject to collective punishment, an act illegal under international law.
The recent closing and destruction of the industrial scale Karni Crossing by the Israeli authorities has made exports at meaningful levels an impossibility.
The destruction of Karni follows the closure of other major crossing points in the past four years: the Karni crossing for container goods and cement as well as the Karni conveyor belt used to transfer wheat, animal feed and aggregate; the Sofa crossing for bulk construction items, and the Nahal Oz crossing for fuel.
While efforts are being made to increase the capacity of Kerem Shalom, now the sole commercial crossing into Gaza, the possibility of returning to pre-blockade trade levels between Gaza, the West Bank and Israel remains low.
The blockade also affects UNRWA’s reconstruction effort in Gaza. Out of a 667 million USD reconstruction plan, UNRWA has been able to complete 22 projects worth some 22.5 million USD and is presently working on implementation of further projects amounting worth some $115 million USD. This is a sizeable amount and reflects good progress made, but dozens more schools and thousands of homes still need to be built. While we welcome the steps made by the Israeli authorities in approving projects, we need to step up the pace of reconstruction. Three years on, UNRWA calls on the international community to work with the relevant parties to ease further the restrictions, give swifter approval for more projects and put an end to the blockade.
In the West Bank, forced displacements, settlement expansion, and settler violence are taking a devastating toll on the communities UNRWA serves. Since the beginning of 2011, nearly 1100 Palestinians, including 618 children, have been displaced due to demolitions in East Jerusalem and Area C. This compares with 606 Palestinians, including 297 children, displaced in 2010. As many of the displaced are refugees, the burden of assisting them falls upon UNRWA.
The present situation in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank continues to impact economic opportunities for Palestinians. Although modest economic growth was reported in 2011, the sustainability of this growth remains uncertain. Evidence indicates that the private sector continues to struggle to accommodate and overcome Israeli restrictions that limit access to resources and markets in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. As a result, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank remain extremely vulnerable to any reductions in aid flows, which further threaten the livelihoods of already at-risk families facing significant food security challenges and protection threats.
Furthermore, a widespread protection crisis has also emerged, characterized by a disregard for human dignity and persistent violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The refugees - who comprise an estimated 83 percent of the Gaza Strip and an estimated 37 percent of the West Bank – often bear the worst consequences of this crisis.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Barring an unexpected change in the humanitarian situation, the vicious cycle of unemployment, food insecurity and aid dependency will continue in 2012.
Overall, the 2012 Emergency Appeal amounts to just over US$ 300 million with 75 percent covering activities to be implemented in the Gaza Strip and just under 25 percent covering activities to be implemented in the West Bank. This corresponds to a 20 percent decrease from the 2011 Emergency Appeal. With UNRWA’s 2011 Emergency Appeal only 40% funded in 2011, UNRWA was compelled to prioritize its most urgent activities and improve implementation efficiency.
Our Appeal therefore focuses on three strategic priorities – food security, protection and emergency response capability. 80% of the requested funds will be used to promote food security through food assistance, cash assistance and job creation programmes. A sizeable portion of our Appeal also aims to protect the rights of refugees and improve their access to basic emergency health, water, sanitation, education, and temporary shelter. The Appeal also seeks to further strengthen the Agency’s emergency response capacity, positioning the Agency to better respond to emergency needs despite the decrease in overall funds sought.
We use this launch as a reminder that the humanitarian consequences of the Gaza war, the ongoing blockade, and the continuing impediments to access and movement, remain acute, necessitating that 70 percent of refugees in the Gaza Strip and 50 percent in the West Bank continue to rely on humanitarian assistance to meet their most basic needs.
None of UNRWA’s work would be possible without the generous support of its donors, for which the Agency remains deeply grateful.
We remain concerned, however, by the reduction in funding levels compared to the overall humanitarian needs. Recognizing the number of humanitarian disasters facing the world today – in addition to the global financial crisis and rapidly changing context in the Middle East – I urge donors to continue their timely and crucial assistance in order to ensure acute needs are met, thus contributing to stability within the refugee community and the occupied Palestinian territory as a whole.
While noting the urgency of addressing the humanitarian needs of refugees today, it remains of paramount importance that the underlying causes of the needs are addressed The protracted humanitarian crisis we have today in the occupied Palestinian territory is a direct result of the conflict, which urgently requires a political solution.
Along with asking you to assist us in meeting the present needs of refugees and giving generously to this Emergency Appeal, I urge you, particularly those in the international community, to take bold steps to bring about a just and comprehensive political solution to this conflict and pave the way forward for citizens of this region to live in peace and prosperity.