The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. António Guterres, visited the Gaza Strip on 30 August, joined by the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, and UNRWA Commissioner-General Mr. Pierre Krähenbühl. At UNRWA Beit Lahiya Prep Girls school, north Gaza, Mr. Guterres addressed UN staff working in Gaza noting the difficulties that United Nations staff face while fulfilling their crucial role providing vital services and assistance to the people in Gaza. To listen to the voices of Palestine refugees in Gaza, Mr. Guterres met with the UNRWA Central School Parliament and with families benefitting from UNRWA services. During his first visit to Gaza as UN Secretary-General, Mr. Guterres deplored witnessing “one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises that I have seen in many years working as a humanitarian in the United Nations”. The UNRWA Commissioner-General Mr. Pierre Krähenbühl and senior UNRWA staff returned to Gaza from 5-9 September for meetings with Field management. The Commissioner-General also visited different UNRWA installations including Rafah Preparatory Girls School, Rafah Preparatory Boys School, the Japanese Health Centre and a sanitation office and met with Palestine refugee families to understand the situation on the ground and the plight of Gaza residents.
On 1 September, Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip as well as Muslims around the world celebrated Eid Al-Adha, marking the end of the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. As part of UNRWA’s efforts to help mitigate the food insecurity among refugee families in Gaza and enable them to celebrate Eid at a time of increasing poverty levels in Gaza, UNRWA distributed 896 live sheep to 2,688 poor Palestine refugee families on 29 and 30 August 2017. The distribution took place in seven UNRWA Distribution Centres, and targeted Social Safety Net beneficiaries (those households who live on less than US$ 1.74 per person per day) in Gaza, where one sheep is shared between three refugee families. Today, over 80 per cent of the population in the Gaza Strip relies on humanitarian assistance to be able to cover their basic needs, such as food, basic education, basic health care or shelter. The blockade on the coastal enclave, now in its eleventh year, continues to cause severe socio-economic and psychosocial distress for too many people in Gaza. There is an overall decrease in economic access to food in Gaza as a result of increased unemployment, high food prices and extreme volatility of the economy.
On 21 and 22 August, the UNRWA Gaza Field Communications Office in coordination with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) conducted the “Lifeline Communications” training. Attended by 22 UNRWA staff drawn from the Communications Office, Area Chief Offices and Front Office, the training aimed to build the participants’ capacities to communicate with affected communities, engage in two-way dialogue and ensure proper application of humanitarian and protection principles. During the two-day training, the trainers from Oxfam, UNICEF and media outlets worked with participants to develop lifeline communications messages, defined as communications that is timely, clear, actionable, positive and two-way in addition to being for people not about them. The trainers used different training techniques including role play, scenarios, questions and discussions to engage participants and illustrate the significance, diversity and challenges of communications with affected communities. In early 2017, BBC Media Action delivered a Lifeline Training of Trainers (ToT) to UN agencies, humanitarian organizations and media outlets in Gaza equipping participants to deliver the Lifeline course for media or humanitarian colleagues. Lifeline programming is specific media programming for communities affected by humanitarian crises. It aims to provide people with timely, relevant and practical information to alleviate their suffering and assist with their recovery. Lifeline programming also aims to give affected people the opportunity to voice their concerns, express their needs, share their stories and hold humanitarian aid providers to account.
On 30 August, the UNRWA Gaza Field Office Gender Initiative ‘Equality in Action’ Programme organized an Entrepreneur Day, which aimed to support future women entrepreneurs. Five women presented their business plans to an advisory committee composed of representatives from UNRWA Microfinance and Micro-Enterprise Department (MMD), a local bank and local small enterprise association. The committee commented on the women's presentations assessing the strengths of their plans as well as providing advice for future improvements and potential sources of funding. The Entrepreneur Day is a part of the ‘Empowerment Programme for Female-Heads of Households’ project, which aims to equip women who are the breadwinners in their families with skills relevant to income generation through micro-enterprises. The programme aims at countering the hardship and poverty often experienced by female heads of households in the Gaza Strip by providing them with skills to improve their own situation and connecting women with their peers.
257 UNRWA schools in Gaza participated in the Arab Reading Challenge initiative, a competition first launched in September 2015 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai. In total, 45,283 Palestine refugee students participated and 13, 283 students read 50 books. Every school nominated the best three students, measured by the student’s knowledge and comprehension of books and ability to think critically, who were then honoured and rewarded in a local celebration. 63 students from UNRWA schools who were the top five in each educational area were rewarded at a later stage. The UNRWA Education Programme has cooperated in arranging for the final competition and celebration at which the three finalists from UNRWA and public schools were announced by the Minister of Education in the presence of other competitors and their families. The Arab Reading Challenge is an Arab project aiming to encourage learning, raise awareness of the importance of reading and promote the Arabic language among students. UNRWA TV has produced several videos about the Arab Reading Challenge - watch them here.
In Aug 2017, UNRWA completed six projects including the construction of a Rubb Hall in Deir El Balah. The structure will facilitate the warehousing of emergency goods and equipment, ensure access to goods especially during times of conflict and enhance the safety of staff and beneficiaries. Further, the construction of two schools which will serve around 2000 students and the construction of 50 shading sheds which will protect protection from the weather were completed. UNRWA also finalized the construction of 11 generator rooms in UNRWA schools throughout the Gaza Strip benefitting approx. 11,000 Palestine refugee students in addition to a coldstore for medicines. In August, 22 infrastructure projects worth US$ 52.4million were under implementation while 16 projects worth US$ 23.1million were awaiting implementation.