7 - 14 April | Issue No. 88
UNRWA is currently completing the training of social workers across the Gaza Strip on the reformed poverty assessment system (PAS). Poverty assessment home visits will restart in May 2015. The Agency has reformed its PAS over the last year, reason why the assessments were interrupted during this period. The new method improves rapidity and accuracy through tablet-based data collection; ensures better quality through stronger quality assurance procedures and the introduction of a robust appeal mechanism; has become fairer and more gender equal by allowing women who do not hold their own refugee registration card number to be assessed and obtain food in their own name; and by ensuring that families facing economic shocks can reapply quickly for an assessment. Determining eligibility for food assistance using the PAS is a routine process for UNRWA to ensure that food continues to be provided to those who need it most. The PAS is not related to the funding situation of the Agency. UNRWA will serve all those who are assessed as eligible for food assistance; there is no maximum number of food aid beneficiaries. Currently almost 868,000 Palestine refugees depend on food aid from UNRWA – half of Gaza’s 1.76 million total population and 65 percent of the registered refugee population.
The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) organized an event on 8 April in the UNRWA Khan Younis Training Centre in southern Gaza to celebrate the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action with this year’s theme ‘More than Mines’. The celebration was attended by thousands of people who particularly enjoyed the performance by Gaza-born singer Mohammed Assaf, the UNRWA Regional Youth Ambassador for Palestine Refugees. Also present were the United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr. James Rawley as well as the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Robert Turner, who thanked UNMAS for its support during and since the escalation of hostilities last summer. The July/August 2014 conflict has left an estimated 7,000 Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) and other hazards buried amid the rubble, a significant higher level of contamination than in previous conflicts.
Also on the occasion of the International Mine Action Day representatives from UNRWA and UNMAS in Gaza were invited to a conference held in Rome on 9 April, titled ‘Unexploded Devices in Gaza’, where they presented on the situation in Gaza and explained the respective Agency’s response to the EWR threat. The event was preceded by a short film on the subject to raise further awareness. The conference was organized by the ‘National Association of Victims of the Civil War’ (Associazione Nazionale Vittime Civili di Guerra), an Italian public body, and the UNRWA Italian National Committee. The Association has donated EUR 30,000 (approximately US$ 31,700) to UNRWA for awareness raising purposes about the danger of ERWs. The contribution will be spent on interactive risk education for children aged between 4 and 12 years living in UNRWA Collective Centres as well on awareness-raising TV programmes that will be produced by the Gaza Field Offices’ UNRWA TV satellite channel.
Almost 2,700 more refugee families received support for home repairs or rental subsidies during this week. US$ 1.94 million in funding became available for UNRWA cash assistance for supporting home repairs of minor damages or transitional rental subsidies and will reach 2,698 families across the Gaza Strip this week. They will access the payments through local banks. These 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, transitional shelter cash assistance). For example, to date 685 families still haven’t received the transitional rental subsidy for the period from September to December 2014; 9,000 refugee families are waiting for the first quarter of 2015 payment and 7,400 families have not received their US$ 500 reintegration grant. Over 62,5000 families are awaiting money to commence with the repair of their damaged shelter. UNRWA has processed all these cases and as soon as funding is secured the Agency will be able to distribute the urgently needed cash assistance. To date, over 60,000 Palestine refugee families have been able to complete the repair of their damaged homes with assistance provided through UNRWA. A further approximately 11,500 families whose homes were totally or severely destroyed have received a one-time rental subsidy payment typically covering four months subsidy. Of the families receiving TSCA, nearly 9,000 families also benefited from the US$ 500 reintegration grant. More than eight months after the announcement of a ceasefire, not a single totally destroyed home has been rebuilt in Gaza.
Since the start of the emergency shelter response, UNRWA has distributed a total of US$ 95.4 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families. As of 13 April 2015, UNRWA engineers have completed the technical assessment of 143,094 homes as part of the Agency’s efforts to determine assistance eligibility. Whilst the ongoing appeal review is expected to be concluded soon, to date 9,161 Palestine refugee houses have been considered totally destroyed and 5,066 have suffered severe, 4,085 major and 124,782 minor damages. Also, to date, the Agency has only received funding to reconstruct 200 of the 9,061 houses totally destroyed.
As part of the Agency’s continuous dialogue with the community in Gaza to insure public engagement with UNRWA efforts to serve Palestine refugees, the Director of UNRWA Operations, Mr. Robert Turner, on 13 April met with 85 representatives from 27 different Non-Government and Community Based Women’s Organisations (CBOs) in Rafah, in southern Gaza. Among them 10 hearing impaired women and men provided valuable input. The community representatives of the women’s organisations in Rafah were mostly concerned with questions and propositions regarding the economic empowerment and independence of women and employment possibilities for persons with disabilities. Many young women also talked about the daily challenges they face in society. Mr. Turner thanked the participants for their helpful inputs, emphasizing that while UNRWA is not in the position to provide employment to everyone in Gaza, the Agency will work with the CBOs to explore ways of cooperating in an effective manner. He highlighted there is only one way to ensure full economic development in Gaza: the illegal blockade must be lifted.
For the first time, UNRWA, with funds from Islamic Relief Canada, has launched a project that provides special educational and psychological support to injured refugee students at UNRWA schools, and if necessary at their homes, across the Gaza Strip. The ‘supporting students in Gaza after the summer 2014 hostilities’ project, worth approximately US$ 1 million, started in November 2014 and will run for fourteen months. Six workshops on inclusive education are currently being held across Gaza with a total of 77 subject teachers, 54 special education needs teachers as well as 6 project coordinators attending. “The project does not focus only on education, but also on providing psychological consultations as well as health care and assistive devices such as wheel chairs or glasses to families who cannot afford these for their children,” commented Mr Shaher Yaghi, a quality assurance coordinator at the UNRWA Education Department, during a training session with 25 subject and rehabilitation teachers at the Jabalia Preparatory Girls School A in northern Gaza that took place on 13 April. An estimated 853 UNRWA students were injured during the summer hostilities of 2014. While some of them are coping with temporary injuries, others will live the rest of their lives with permanent disabilities.
As part of its ongoing efforts to provide psychosocial recovery activities to Gaza’s children, UNRWA this week organized a recreational event for 26 children from two Agency-run Collective Centres in Gaza city. The children went on a field trip to the UNRWA Gaza Field Office where they engaged in painting a mural on one of the compound’s walls. UNRWA partnered with two local artists who designed the mural and spoke with the girls and boys about its meaning which carries symbols of peace, equality and humanity. The 26 little artists also had the opportunity to meet the UNRWA Director of Operations, Mr. Robert Turner. After the painting, they enjoyed some lunch and sweets in the UNRWA Gaza Field Office garden.
Gaza’s Greek Orthodox Christian community celebrated Holy Saturday and the Divine Liturgy of the Resurrection of Christ on the eve of Orthodox Easter on 11 April in the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrius in Gaza City. According to a survey of the Young Men’s Christian Association in Gaza from 2014 the Christian community in the Strip, which is predominantly Greek Orthodox, today consists of approximately 1,300 persons. Between 1997 and 2014 the community has declined by an average of 1.3 per cent every year.
During the reporting week UNRWA closed the Al Amal Prep. Girls Collective Centre in Khan Younis, towards the south of Gaza, decreasing the total number of shelters to 10. The heavy rainfalls over the weekend caused one family in northern Gaza to move from their home to the Beit Hanoun co-ed "C" shelter in Beit Hanoun. The Agency still provides hot meals to approximately 6,300 internally displaced persons (IDPs) on a daily basis. On 1 April, the Collective Centre Management Unit (CCMU) started a 3-day training for 50 newly recruited CC team members. The trainees, recruited through the UNRWA Job Creation Programme, were given the required skills and knowledge for working in a CC such as information about food safety, WASH or protection. Each CC has a team of 45 JCPs who provide support in maintenance, hygiene awareness, health or food assistance. The UNRWA CC teams provide service to the IDPs 24 hours per day seven days a week.
Forty-six aid agencies of the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) call on the international community to change its approach to Gaza and deliver on promises. “The promising speeches at the donor conference have turned into empty words,” commented Winni Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam in a briefing paper released on 13 April titled ‘Charting a New Course: Overcoming the stalemate in Gaza’. “The international community is walking with eyes wide open into the next conflict,” she continued. The report warns that a future conflict – and therefore the cycle of destruction and donor-funded reconstruction – is inevitable unless donors insist on a permanent ceasefire, accountability of all parties and an end to the Israeli blockade. According to the report, donors, rather than challenging the blockade, have found a way to work around it. “With the blockade in place we are just reconstructing a life of misery, poverty and despair,” said Tony Laurence, CEO of MAP UK. The report also mentions continued violence since the temporary ceasefire is in place – with more than 400 incidents of Israeli fire into Gaza and four rockets fired from Gaza into Israel – and focuses on accountability for violations of international law. “There must be consequences for continued violations. By facilitating a culture of impunity, the international community is committing itself to indefinitely picking up the pieces,” said William Bell of Christian Aid. UNRWA, together with Oxfam International or Medicins du Monde, was one of over 40 national and international NGOs that supported the AIDA thunderclap campaign that has reached 1.4 million people and ended on 13 April; AIDA continues to promote its advocacy message on Twitter under the hashtag of #OpenGaza and rebuild.
Operational environment: Despite the tough and tense situation that dominates life in Gaza, many residents of the Gaza Strip took to the streets this week to march in solidarity with their fellow Palestinians trapped in the Yarmouk Camp in southern Damascus, Syria. Meanwhile, according to media reports, alleged Islamic State (IS) supporters in Gaza reportedly called for the release of their fellow sympathisers after security forces of the former de-facto government allegedly arrested suspected members over the past week. Also in the media, the Palestinian Ministry of Interior and National Security denied the existence of IS-affiliated groups in Gaza or the arrest of any members allegedly associated with IS. The former de-facto government has nevertheless launched a campaign to combat extremism and “erratic and radical ideology,” as covered by media outlets.
The National Consensus Government appointed Gaza refugee Kamal Sherafi as new coordinator for the Gaza reconstruction file. Mohammed Mustafa, the previous deputy prime minister and minister of economy responsible for the reconstruction of war-ravaged Gaza resigned end of March 2015. Sherafi was a former Minister of Health in the Salam Fayyad government.
During the reporting week, a number of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were detonated in Gaza city; no injuries were reported. On 10 April a family dispute broke out in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, and three homemade bombs were thrown towards the UNRWA Al Amal Elementary Girls School which is used as shelter by one of the involved families. On 8 April unexploded ordnance (UXO) exploded in the Deir El Balah camp in the Gaza Middle Area; two children sustained shrapnel wounds.
Protests during the reporting week continued, mostly concerning the expression of solidarity with Palestinians trapped in the Yarmouk Camp in Syria or the demand to release Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
DREAMING OF WALKING TO SCHOOL AGAIN
10-year old Yousef Mansour was playing with his friends in front of the UNRWA Jabalia Elementary Girls school that served as a designated emergency shelter during the 2014 summer conflict when it was struck by three Israeli projectiles on 30 July 2014.
“I was playing with my friends when I suddenly felt blood running down my body. The next thing I knew is that I woke up in a hospital with great pain in my leg,” remembered Yousef who was rendered unconscious by the violent incident.
The shelling had caused numerous injuries and fatalities among the approximately 2,945 internally displaced people who had sought refuge in the shelter as well as among people outside in the street like Yousef.
Severe factions in his left leg left Yousef unable to walk and so he missed the first semester of the fourth grade at his school. Tied to his wheel chair at home, he felt isolated and angry: “I was sad seeing my friends going to school, my brothers playing outside in the street and I myself was only watching them, unable to run or play football like all the others,” he recalled sadly.
Hope came back when his name was listed among those who would benefit from the ‘supporting students in Gaza after the summer 2014 hostilities’ project by UNRWA. The project has started in November 2014 and provides special educational and psychological support to injured refugee students at UNRWA schools, and if necessary at their homes, across the Gaza Strip.
“300 UNRWA students from the north of Gaza were injured during the July/August 2014 armed conflict. We allocated 30 special teachers to support their special needs, starting with providing rehabilitation services and special needs education,” commented the project area coordinator in the north of Gaza, Mrs. Wafa El Bakri.
Across Gaza, an estimate of 853 injured refugee students will benefit from this project funded by Islamic Relief Canada with approximately US$ 1 million.
The project allowed UNRWA to organize a teacher who visits Yousef at home on a daily basis, teaching him Mathematics, Science, English and other relevant subjects in order for him to catch up on the missed out school material. “We also support Yousef with stationary and curriculum books, and we coordinate with UNRWA clinics to provide him with the necessary physiotherapy. It is an extensive process that involves the whole UNRWA project team,” explained Mrs. Wafa further.
Poverty and unemployment rates are sky-rocketing in Gaza as a result of the Israeli blockade and repeated armed conflicts, and so Yousef’s father was not able to afford the extensive medication and rehabilitation services his son needs to recover and to go back to school one day.
“Yousef lost his enthusiasm. He did not positively respond to our humble attempts of teaching him at home,” said his father Ismail Mansour, “but after the UNRWA team reached out to him and started with their home visits, he was willing to learn again”.
With a shy smile on his face Yousef said he wishes to become a dentist in the future. But in the meantime his biggest dream is to walk to school again where he can join his classmates and be a normal child like everyone else.
SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS
During the reporting week, Israeli forces fired at Palestinians near the fence with Israel or at Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 8 April, Israeli patrol boats reportedly injured a fisherman in Beit Lahia in North Gaza. On 9 April, Israeli forces arrested a Palestinian who tried to cross into Israel. A hand grenade and knife were reportedly found in his possession. On 10 April, Israeli forces opened fire towards the Abasan area in Khan Younis and injured one Palestinian.
On 7 April, militants fired five test rockets towards the sea; on 11 and 12 April they fired a total of 3 test rockets 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.
As presented in UNRWA’s oPt Emergency Appeal, the Agency is seeking USD 366.6 million for its 2015 emergency operations in Gaza, 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 7 to 14 April.
- 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 10 April Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 11 April.
- Kerem Shalom was open between 7 to 9 April and 12 to 14 April. It was closed on 10 and 11 April.