24 – 31 March 2015 | Issue 86
From 24 to 26 March, an UNRWA delegation led by Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl attended the 12th Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development Conference and Exhibition (DIHAD 2015), which was held under the patronage of H. H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister of United Arab Emirates, Ruler of Dubai. During the conference, the Commissioner-General delivered a keynote address in which he highlighted the need for further investment in human capital, self-reliance and development. In addition, the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Robert Turner, gave an update on the current situation of Palestine refugees in Gaza. His presentation included moving images of the devastated coastal enclave, as he reminded attendees of the need for the international community to step up to their pledging commitments so that UNRWA can better assist Palestine refugees in Gaza to rebuild their homes and lives. The Commissioner-General and the Director of UNRWA operations in Gaza also met with important partners of the Agency.
Humanitarian needs in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) are driven by practices related to Israel’s prolonged occupation and recurrent escalations of armed conflict, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says in the 2014 Annual Humanitarian Overview, “Fragmented Lives”, released on 26 March. In a press release announcing the report, OCHA states that Palestinian civilians continue to be subject to threats to their life, physical safety and liberty, and that 2014 witnessed the highest civilian death toll since 1967. “In Gaza, 1.8 million people experienced an escalation of hostilities, which resulted in over 1,500 Palestinian civilian fatalities, including more than 550 children, and left some 100,000 residents without a home. On the Israeli side, five civilians, including a child, as well as a security guard were killed. Serious concerns were raised over the conduct of hostilities of both Israeli forces and armed Palestinian actors. Reconstruction in Gaza has been slow, hampered by the continued blockade and the lack of funding, although the temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism has enabled the import of construction material,” said James Rawley, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the oPt in the press release. According to the report, movement and access restrictions continued to fragment the occupied territory, undermining Palestinians’ livelihoods and impeding their access to basic services. “Continued occupation undermines the ability of Palestinians to live normal lives. Were these factors removed and related policies changed, international humanitarian assistance would not be necessary here,” The Humanitarian Coordinator concluded.
UNRWA continued its exceptional food distribution during the reporting week, with a total of 21,970 families having already received food parcels of flour, oil and rice. The initiative commenced on 22 March as part of the Agency’s early recovery response to the summer 2014 conflict. The distribution to approximately 35,000 families aims at ensuring sufficient access to food for refugees in Gaza; it also serves to inject essential commodities into the local market. The food parcels are provided in quantities according to family size. Beneficiaries include newly separated families, those who have applied for food assistance but have not yet been visited, families previously classified as not poor before 2013 and pending results of a complaint and other vulnerable families identified. The distribution comes in addition to the regular food assistance provided to approximately 868,000 refugees and the daily rations that UNRWA is providing to more than 7,000 internally displaced persons sheltering in 12 UNRWA Collective Centres across Gaza.
During the reporting week, US $667,199 in funding from the Japanese Government was paid to 199 affected families across the Gaza Strip through local banks. In January 2015, UNRWA was forced to suspend its cash assistance programme supporting repairs and providing rental subsidies to Palestine refugee families in Gaza. This week’s payments do not change the fact that only US$ 175 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency shelter programme, for which a total of US$ 720 million is required. This leaves a current shortfall of US$ 545 million. UNRWA urgently requires additional funding to allow refugee families with minor damage to repair their homes and to provide on-going rental subsidies (TSCA).
To date, some 60,000 Palestine refugee families have been able to complete the repair of their damaged homes with assistance provided through UNRWA. A further 10,760 families whose homes were totally or severely destroyed have received one TSCA payment typically covering four months subsidy; over 1,300 displaced refugee families have yet to receive even one instalment. Of the families receiving TSCA, over 7,600 families also benefited from the $500 reintegration grant. A further 1,270 families whose homes incurred major damage benefited from the reintegration grant. However, more than seven months after the announcement of a ceasefire, not a single totally destroyed home has been rebuilt in Gaza. The GRM, a temporary agreement between the Governments of Israel and Palestine concluded in September 2014, currently allows the entry of building materials for repair but the process for rebuilding totally destroyed homes remains yet to be agreed upon. Whereas import of construction material is banned by the Government of Israel but possible for UN-led projects following a lengthy approval procedure since 2010, the UNRWA shelter self-help programme is completely reliant on the GRM.
Since the start of the emergency shelter response, UNRWA has distributed a total of US$ 94.2 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families. As of 30 March 2015, UNRWA engineers have completed the technical assessment of 138,545 homes as part of the UNRWA efforts to determine assistance eligibility. Whilst the ongoing appeal review is expected to be concluded soon, to date 9,061 Palestine refugee houses have been considered totally destroyed and 5,066 have suffered severe, 4,085 major and 120,333 minor damages. Also, to date, the Agency has only received funding to reconstruct 200 of the 9,061 houses totally destroyed.
728 women in Gaza participated in a graduation ceremony for the UNRWA Young Women Leadership Programme (YWLP) at Rash Al Shawwa Cultural Centre in Gaza City on 29 March. Youth female unemployment rates amongst Palestine refugee women in the Gaza Strip skyrocketed to 83.3 per cent in 2014, according to recent statistics from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Across the board unemployment levels in Gaza sit at 43.9 per cent, the highest rate on record. Mindful of this worrying trend, the UNRWA Gender Initiative in 2011 launched the Young Women Leadership Programme (YWLP) seeking to better equip fresh graduates from university with skills in leadership, interviewing and negotiation, English language, computer use and access to three-month intern positions within the private and non-government sectors in Gaza. Over the past three years, 3,124 graduates between 22 and 28 years old have benefited from the programme, including the young women who graduated during the reporting week. Of 760 YWLP graduates from the mid-2014 graduation round, 57 per cent of participants have actively sought employment opportunities while 22 per cent confirmed they had found fixed term work, according to a study conducted by UNRWA’s Gender programme.
Whilst the eight year Israeli imposed blockade may have devastated the economy and caused chronic unemployment, it has not blocked the imagination and innovative business ideas of young people in the Gaza Strip. UNRWA continues to pilot its social enterprise, the Gaza Gateway, as part of an ongoing commitment to enhancing employment prospects for young Palestine refugees in Gaza, an initiative that is designed to help young IT graduates gain work experience and employability training, and create new opportunities within the devastated Gaza economy. During the reporting period some of UNRWA’s Gaza Gateway participants volunteered their skills as mentors at a startup bootcamp for up and coming tech entrepreneurs, hosted by local accelerator Gaza Sky Geeks. The bootcamp ran over five days and involved more than 100 young people. A select number of students from UNRWA’s Gaza Technical College were also involved in a mentoring session with the visiting international startup experts, where they shared their work and life dreams.
UNRWA continues to receive regular visits from its key donors and its National Committees (NatComs) in Spain, the United States and Italy. National Committees support the Agency through reaching out to the public, local authorities and the private sector. They engage with individuals through mailings, social media and special events. For local and regional governments, they prepare proposals tailored to local interest and opportunities based on UNRWA’s programmes and projects. The National Committees are independent non-profit NGOs. From 24-26 March a representative from the Spanish NatCom of UNRWA visited Gaza to monitor and appraise the progress of ongoing projects and get a sense of priorities for future fundraising. The Committee has been a key supporter of the Agency’s gender projects, initiatives for its (female) over-aged students (those who have missed two or more years of school), and projects related to emergency food and psychosocial support in UNRWA Gaza’s emergency and flash appeals. The representative visited an UNRWA Collective Centre in Gaza’s southern area of Khan Younis, as well as an Agency-run Training Centre, meeting students of emergency nursing, construction, tiling, masonry, e-business and data entry classes. An UNRWA distribution centre, meetings with UNRWA’s relief and social services programme and time with one of the Agency’s partner CBOs – the Society of Women Graduates in the Gaza Strip – were also part of the Spanish NatCom visit.
UNRWA is entering the final phase of a multi-programme project to support Gaza’s transition from Emergency to Development, generously funded by the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany (BMZ). As part of UNRWA’s programme of early recovery efforts, the Agency is using the donation of EUR 2,500,000 – almost US $ 2.7 million– on education, health, cash for work and gender activities. Significant highlights of the programme include supporting students as they transition back into formal education activities. This includes providing them with self-learning materials and education aids to foster independent learning and create a better learning environment. Self-learning materials have been distributed in schools and teaching aids developed. Additional teachers have also been recruited and are currently providing remedial education in schools to support children struggling to keep up with classwork in key subjects such as Arabic and Maths. The objective of the remedial education assistance is to support lower achieving students to ensure they have the specialized attention required to learn effectively. To improve the social and economic situation of Palestine refugee women and girls, improved economic opportunities and social frameworks are being offered through the Sulafa Centre, the referral capacity for gender-based violence (GBV) support expanded, and safe social spaces for women in remote communities created.
From the midst of the 50-day summer 2014 conflict in July 2014 until today, UNRWA’s 252-member Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) team has worked tirelessly with the children of Gaza in a special early recovery initiative to help children cope as they try to make sense of the violence and destruction many have witnessed. Some of the refugee children are engaged in repeated sessions with the counsellors, both at UNRWA’s schools and the Agency’s Collective Centres where many internally displaced persons (IDPs) sought shelter, as the team works steadily to improve the coping mechanisms of Gaza’s young. On 25 March, the CMHP hosted an internal capacity development and sharing workshop, which included an exhibition of photos taken by one of the Agency’s teachers. The photos tell the CMHP story of support to children and their parents in Gaza. The images captured activities such as games, which play a key role in UNRWA’s CMHP school program. Some 18,700 refugee children received individual counselling and over 21,000 students took part in specialized CMHP group counselling sessions from July 2014-April 2015. UNRWA’s school-based counsellors report that many refugee children in Gaza exhibit emotional and behavioural problems and struggle with their academic performance in correlation with continuing conflict. Encouraging students to explore their feelings, games plays a major role in the CMHP’s work. After the summer 2014 hostlities, UNRWA counsellors were deployed to work amongst the Agency’s 252 schools. The Agency also employed hundreds of additional psychosocial counsellors to work and train around 8,000 UNRWA teachers to better cope with their own traumatic experiences and to be prepared and aware of abnormal behavioural patterns to support their young student’s as schools re-opened in mid-September. The UNRWA CMHP team has been working with Palestine refugees in Gaza since 2002.
UNRWA continues to support and provide for the basic needs of 7,072 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living in 12 Agency-run Collective Centres across the Gaza Strip.
Operational environment: Politics remained at the forefront of news on Gaza over the past week. There was a mixed reception when Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah arrived in the Gaza Strip last Wednesday for a three day visit. Hamdallah was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Omar and Minister of Health Jawad Awwad. According to media reports, during his press encounter, the Prime Minister emphasized that he aims to find solutions to all issues plaguing the Gaza Strip, “vowing that civilian workers of Hamas's de facto administration in Gaza would go on the payroll of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.” In his second official visit to Gaza since the NCG took office last June, the Prime Minister also stressed the importance of holding presidential and legislative elections.
UNRWA has recently experienced some challenges with regards to the process of bringing its regular and pre-approved construction material to Gaza for UNRWA-led construction projects (excluding the shelter self-help programme where imports of materials are coordinated through the GRM). UNRWA construction contractors have reportedly been requested to import wood (and plywood) through the coordination process, meaning that wood is now considered “dual list” material by the Government of Israel and requires UNRWA facilitation on behalf of the contractors implementing UNRWA projects. The Agency was notified that this change is in place until further notice, but awaits further details on technical specifications affected before it can accommodate new coordination requests to import the needed wood and plywood. The Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration to the Gaza Strip (CLA) requires UNRWA to provide the number of projects and corresponding number of trucks that it expects to cross with materials, in advance. However limited crossing capacity is creating delays, for example in the third week of March, UNRWA coordinated for 450 trucks, but only received 350 trucks. The Agency has provided CLA with its requirements for April and May in an effort to ensure the increasing demand for materials can be accommodated by the crossing and UNRWA’s pre-approved projects do not experience further delays.
Families in Gaza remain frustrated at the slow pace of reconstruction and prospects for the future. During the reporting period, daily protests and civil unrest continued outside UN installations and INGO offices. Most were demanding faster reconstruction and release of prisoners in Israeli jails. A number of demonstrations were held in commemoration of “Land Day,” an anniversary that stems from an original protest in 1976, when six Palestinian citizens of northern Israel were reportedly killed by Israeli troops as they demonstrated against Israel’s reported theft of their land. The commemoration has become an important symbolic day in the occupied Palestinian territory.
FIGHTING UNEMPLOYMENT, ONE WOMAN AT A TIME
Noon on an uncharacteristically warm winter’s day in Gaza, and Nisreen Anu Rowda, 26, sits perched on the edge of a black plastic conference chair. While her gaze does not falter from the stage in front, neither does her left hand that lies carefully on her young daughter’s shoulder seated next to her. The conference room she sits in is filled with close to a thousand, predominantly young, female, Palestine refugees. All seem to be nodding in unison as they listen to a string of speakers address the crowd.
Nisreen, a mother of five children who has lived all her life at the Al Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, has entered the work force at a time when Gaza’s youth female refugee unemployment rate has surged to over 83 per cent, according to 2014 statistics from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. It is the highest rate ever recorded and stands alongside an overall unemployment rate for refugees of 44.1 per cent.
Nisreen has completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in education, a Diploma in public relations, and has set up the first kindergarten in the refugee camp she lives in. She is ambitious, thoughtful and, in spite of what could be insurmountable challenges; she is pushing hard against the odds that have her firmly in the ‘unemployed and dependent on hand-outs’ category. “In Gaza it is especially hard to for a woman to prove herself among a society that is male dominated,” she said. “But I have a good attitude, energy and now support and I will achieve - for me and for my family.”
The determined young mother said she puts her positive outlook down to her own resilience and the support of UNRWA‘s Young Women Leadership Program (YLWP). The YWLP is a voluntary three-month programme offered to female Palestine refugee university graduates aged 22-28 years old. Since its launch in 2011 it has provided broad training in life skills, management, administration, human rights, English language and interview techniques to some 3,124 young females. After completing the training, participants are placed in a work environment – in Community Based Organizations, Non-Government Organizations or the private sector – to gain experience. They receive a small monthly allowance for their engagement. The aim is not only the professional development of the female graduate, but also to raise their stance in the community and in their homes by helping them to gain self-confidence.
The rapport between the UNRWA YWLP workers and the trainees is important. The YWLP staff seek to encourage young graduates to grow into the people they intrinsically are; to listen to their intuition, to exercise judgement and develop self-confidence – not easy for a person who may have been raised to hold back her thoughts and is living in a region of great social and economic uncertainty. Gaza’s economy was already starting to crumble before last summer’s conflict due to the eight year Israeli imposed blockade, which virtually bans the movement of goods and people from the Gaza Strip. According to the International Monetary Fund, such is the demise that it now ranks Gaza economy as one of the most unstable in the world.
Ask Nisreen of the value of YWLP and she fires back a response immediately. “Having a degree is no longer enough to get employment - it is only the first step. This training gave me skills and helped me promote myself.” After a public relations work placement at the Palestine University, Nisreen received a six-month contract to continue. It is likely this will also be extended.
SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS
During the reporting week, IDF troops fired at Palestinians near the fence with Israel or at Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 28 March, militants fired one test rocket towards the sea.
US$ 175 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency shelter programme, for which a total of US$ 720 million is required. This leaves a current shortfall of US$ 545 million. UNRWA urgently requires US$ 100 million in the first quarter of 2015 to allow refugee families with minor damage to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies.
As presented in UNRWA’s oPt Emergency Appeal, for its 2015 emergency operations in Gaza, the Agency is seeking USD 366.6 million, including USD 127 million for emergency shelter, repair and collective centre management, USD 105.6 million for emergency food assistance, and USD 68.6 million for emergency cash-for-work. More information can be found here (PDF).
The Rafah Crossing remained closed from 24 to 31 March.
The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff during the reporting week. On 27 March Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 28 March.
Kerem Shalom was open between 24 to 26 and 29 to 31 March. It was closed on 27 and 28 March.