In a town hall meeting on 15 April in Deir El Balah refugee Camp, UNRWA announced the commencement of a new and innovative camp improvement pilot project. The meeting was attended by camp residents, senior officials, the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Robert Turner, the pilot project team and other UNRWA and UN staff. The project is generously funded in advance of a project design, with a dedicated US$ 40 million from the Gulf Cooperation Council for the Reconstruction of Gaza through the Islamic Development Bank. For the duration of the project, UNRWA will use a community participation approach; through consultations, participation in surveys and focus groups and use of IT and online tools, camp residents will have the opportunity to participate in and inform the setting of priorities regarding how best to utilise the funds to improve the camp living conditions. “This camp improvement pilot project is about improving the quality of life for Palestine refugees in Deir El Balah Camp, with the voice and needs of the community at its core,” commented Mr. Turner during the meeting. “We recognize these are very tough days for all Palestine refugees, which is why projects such as this one offer a glimmer of hope and a chance to look to the future. As with all of Gaza, we don’t yet know the details of what that future looks like in Deir El Balah. But we do know that standards of living and socioeconomic development cannot be separated from the living conditions of Palestine refugees – the quality of a camp’s physical environment has a direct bearing on the quality of everyday life,” he added. An information website has also been launched as part of the pilot project. The positive outcome of innovative approaches in humanitarian affairs was highlighted in a recent article by Forbes in December 2014. “Transformation through Innovation” - of which community-based approaches and local ‘bottoms-up’-solutions are an integral part – will also be an important theme of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. Almost eight months after the announcement of the ceasefire, not a single totally destroyed home has been rebuilt in Gaza. As UNRWA did not receive additional funding, the Agency had no resources available to issue additional repair payments in this reporting week. Due to the Agency’s lack of funding, 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 62,500 families are awaiting assistance to commence with minor repairs to 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.
Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, UNRWA has distributed a total of US$ 95.4 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families. As of 20 April 2015, UNRWA engineers have completed the technical assessment of 143,094 houses 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 9,161 houses totally destroyed. 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 (TSCA, transitional shelter cash assistance) typically covering a four-month period. Of the families receiving TSCA, nearly 9,000 families also benefited from the US$ 500 reintegration grant.
During the last summer conflict, a total of 548 Palestinian children lost their lives and about 1,000 children were injured – some so badly that they will have to live the rest of their lives with disabilities. Thousands more were displaced. The unprecedented human, social and physical devastation during the July/August 2014 hostilities had thus a particular impact on children and many are in need of psycho-social support. The UNRWA Summer Fun Weeks (SFW) are one of many tireless efforts of the Agency to support refugee children’s psychosocial needs by providing them with a safe and fun place to play and the possibility to develop new friendships. This year’s SFWs will take place between 25 July and 13 August in 120 different locations across the Gaza Strip. Registration forms have been distributed in schools over the past two weeks and all UNRWA students from grades 1 to 9 will have a chance to participate. The SFWs include sports activities such as football and basketball as well as popular games like trampolines, slides or sack races. Also other activities such as handicrafts, drawings or watching theatre shows will be offered.
This week, the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Robert Turner, is travelling to Berlin and Brussels. In Berlin he will brief relevant German Ministries – including the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – on the situation in Gaza. In Brussels, Mr. Turner will meet and brief representatives of the European Parliament, the European External Action Service (EEAS) of the European Commission and the Council of the European Union.
UNRWA continues to support more than 5,600 internally displaced persons in nine UNRWA Collective Centres (CCs) across the Gaza Strip. The provision of primary health care in UNRWA CCs has been strengthened through generous donations from Islamic Relief USA (IR USA). IR USA funding was also invested in the supply of potable and non-potable water in the shelters to contribute to a clean environment. UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl personally expressed his appreciation for the tremendous support of IR USA to UNRWA in a meeting on 17 March with IR USA Chief Executive Officer Anwar Ahmed Khan. “We are grateful to have IR USA as a committed and creative partner […]. Their support for our work during the 2014 summer crisis had a major impact for Palestine refugees living in very difficult circumstances,” he said.
Hundreds of runners and walkers participated in the Gaza 5K in New York on 28 March. The event raised over US $116,000, as announced by UNRWA USA this week on its Twitter account. The next run for Gaza will take place in Washington DC on 16 May. The Gaza 5K is an annual awareness and fund raising walk/run hosted by UNRWA USA (the American Friends of UNRWA - a National Committee and non-profit organization that supports the work of UNRWA). The walk/run raises funds for the UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP).
The “full-blown water and sanitation crisis” that Gaza is facing was highlighted by Al Jazeera in an article published on 18 April. The article reemphasizes the general warning by UN Agencies, including UNRWA, that by 2016 the Gaza aquifer may become unusable and by 2020 damage will be irreversible and Gaza may no longer be a livable place. The article also speaks of the insufficient sanitation infrastructure which is linked to the chronic electricity and fuel shortages that in turn result from the ongoing blockade on the enclave. Between 24 and 32 million gallons of raw or partially treated sewage is released into the sea on a daily basis, annihilating the algae and thus the presence of small fishes as a source of income. Thirty per cent of Gaza residents are not connected to a sewage plant and their waste water flows into sewage ponds or private septic tanks, sometimes overflowing Gaza’s roads or seeping into its groundwater. Gaza’s groundwater shows levels of chloride and nitrate well above the guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO); WHO released a report in 2014 stating that heavy metals from war remnants contaminate Gaza’s soil and water and lead to possible radiation. However, Israel has allegedly refused to allow the import of testing equipment, as Al Jazeera reports. The recently arrived United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, met with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on 15 April. Following the meeting, Mladenov said he was “encouraged” by the “commitment of [PM Hamdallah’s] government to assume its rightful responsibilities in Gaza.” These responsibilities include the control of the crossings as well as civil service reform and integration. “The UN stands to support any constructive effort in this regard,” Mladenov further commented. He also expressed the UN commitment to support the reconstruction of Gaza, called on the acceleration of the entry of construction material and encouraged Israel to fully release the withheld tax revenues, in line with the Protocol on Economic Relations (also known as the Paris Protocol). The desperate situation in Yarmouk, Syria, stands for the severe suffering and vulnerability of Palestine refugees in the Middle East. While Gaza residents have marched in solidarity with their fellow Palestinians in Yarmouk, the UNRWA Gaza Field Office also stands with all Palestine refugees and UNRWA personnel working in Syria. UNRWA has called for an immediate injection of US $30 million to provide life-sustaining assistance to the 18,000 civilians from Yarmouk, including 3,500 children, and those affected by conflict and displacement in other areas. During the reporting week, UNRWA significantly expanded its response in areas neighbouring Yarmouk, where civilians from Yarmouk have sought shelter. On 11 April UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl visited the Yarmouk campin Syria.
Operational environment: An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded near UNRWA Headquarters in Gaza on 18 April without causing injuries or damages. Over the past week there has been an increase of similar incidents in Gaza City. On 19 April, eight members of the Palestinian Cabinet arrived in Gaza to discuss issues related to last year’s reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah. Media outlets report that the delegation left the enclave one day later without having reached an agreement. Meanwhile, the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on 20 April has given Benjamin Netanyahu an extension until 6 May to form a government, according to the New York Times. Also as reported in the media this week, the Israeli government has reportedly unblocked almost half a billion US dollars that it had confiscated from Palestinian tax revenues since beginning of 2015 – it is thought that this will allow the Palestinian Authority (PA) to pay December and January salaries to 180,000 civil servants, state media reports.
In a new poll released on 14 April by the Arab World Research and Development Organisation, 74 per cent of Gaza respondents (a total of 1,200 from Gaza and the West Bank) stated that their economic situation has declined since last year.
On 14 April, a five floor apartment building in the Deir El Balah refugee Camp collapsed without causing injuries. The building had been impacted during the last conflict.
On 18 April, a 70-year old woman died in Jabalia, northern Gaza, when her house - also partially destroyed during the last conflict - collapsed.
On International Prisoner’s Day on 17 April approximately 1,000 Gaza residents held their Friday prayer in front of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office in Gaza city in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails; also various groups staged rallies across the enclave demanding the release of prisoners.
“THERE IS NO ONE ELSE I WOULD TURN TO FOR HELP”
Twenty years ago, Samira Hasan Muhaisen started with only US$ 200 when she opened a home-based business through selling all types of shoes and bags to people in her neighbourhood. Very soon afterwards, the pro-active entrepreneur became a client of the UNRWA microfinance department; already after the first three loans she succeeded in opening her own shop.
“The UNRWA loans have given my life dignity,” says Samira, sitting behind a small desk in her shoe shop in the Daraj neighbourhood of Gaza city centre. “My business improved my life. I learned how to be a successful merchant.”
Samira is one of 108,000 clients that have received support from the UNRWA microfinance department since its establishment in 1991; forty per cent of its clients in Gaza are women. The programme exists to improve the quality of life of small business owners, micro entrepreneurs and poor households through the provision of training, credits and other financial services that sustain jobs, decrease unemployment, reduce poverty, economically empower women and youth and provide income-generating and asset-building opportunities to Palestine refugees and other poor and marginal groups.
Over time, with growing market reputation and client confidence, Samira was able to transform her business into a wholesale and retail shop. Today she is still receiving micro loans from UNRWA as continuous investment. The energetic lady never stops thinking like a businesswoman. “How can the money be better capitalized, how can the business be expanded, how can it be more profitable,” she asks herself. “And how can it give a future to my children?” Samira dreams about expanding her business with additional stores and new commodities, in addition to empowering one of her talented sons to be her business partner.
Despite the Israeli blockade that has crippled Gaza’s once bustling economy due to heavy restrictions on free movement of goods and the loss of access to traditional markets and productive assets - since the blockade’s inception in 2007, Gaza’s exports have dropped by 97 per cent - Samira holds hopes for the future and dreams of an “opportunity for Gaza and its people” to revitalize.
“I wish that UNRWA supports me, my ideas and my business, until the end,” she declares. “Because there is no one else I would turn to for help.”
SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS
During the reporting week, Israeli forces fired at Palestinians near the fence with Israel and at Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 20 April, Egyptian patrol boats opened fire towards Palestinian boats west of Rafah, southern Gaza.
On 14 April, militants fired six test rockets and on 21 April, one test rocket, towards the sea. On 14 April, two Israeli tanks entered approximately 200 metres into Kahn Younis area and conducted a clearing operation. On 21 April, one Israeli tank and four bulldozers entered approximately 150 metres into the Gaza Middle Area, southeast of the Maghazi refugee Camp and conducted a clearing operation
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 14 to 21 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 17 April Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 18 April.
- Kerem Shalom was open between 14 to 16 April and 19 to 21 April. It was closed on 17 and 18 April.