Mission Report: Fact-finding mission to Tulkarem (18 - 22 Nov 2001)

Report
from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 12 Dec 2001
Participants:
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA)
United Nations Special Co-ordinator's Office (UNSCO)
World Food Programme ( WFP)
European Commission Delegation,
Oxfam GB
Paz y Tercer Mundo (PTM)
Cooperazione e sviluppo (CESVI )

Persons met:

Mr. Izzedin Sharif, Governor
Mr. Mahmoud Jallad, Mayor
Mr. Jawad El-Nasser, Chief Engineer, Municipality
Mr. Hisham Al-Zu'uabi, Assistant Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, An-Najah National University Mr. Mohamed Yacoub, Headmaster, Tulkarem High Vocational School
Mr. Mohammed Abu Haykel, UNRWA, Camp Services Officer, Tulkarem Camp
Mr. Husam Badran, Engineer, UNDP
Mr. Mohamed Amara, International Director, Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)
Members of the local municipality and the Committee of Damages and Losses

RATIONALE

The following is a brief mission report on the situation in Tulkarem town following two visits on 18 and 22 November to assess the damage sustained during the recent Israeli reoccupation. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) re-occupied Tulkarem and five other Palestinian towns on 20 October following the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister, Rehavan Ze'evi. 12 Tulkarem residents were killed (of whom only 5 are said to have had any connection with PA security/police forces) during the three-week reoccupation, bringing the total number of Tulkarem casualties to 49 during the course of the present intifada.

The IDF announced its withdrawal from Tulkarem on 18 November but troops remain at various entry points to the city and the movement of persons and goods in and out of Tulkarem remains highly restricted.

Photo: 'A back to back' operation at the Taibe checkpoint outside Tulkarem. According to the World Bank, the average distance to markets has doubled, the time has tripled and the average cost of transporting a truckload of produced goods has almost doubled, from 170 NIS before the outbreak of the intifada to 370 NIS in June 2001.

Access to medical services was also difficult during the re-occupation period: following ICRC representations, PRCS ambulances were allowed to transport a dozen people in need of special medical care from Tulkarem to a hospital in Nablus. To help a patient who was too ill to be moved, the ICRC negotiated safe passage for two medical personnel, including a surgeon, to the town of Qalqiliya, still under strict closure. The surgeon subsequently performed complicated chest surgery in the local hospital and saved the patient's life.

OVERVIEW OF TULKAREM

Tulkarem governorate is located in the north-western part of the West Bank, approximately 17 kilometres from the Mediterranean. Tulkarem town lies on the 'green line', directly opposite the Israeli-Arab town of Taibe. It has an estimated population of 135,000 people, of whom 34,000 reside in Tulkarem town. Although the city lost a large part of its fertile plains in 1948, agriculture is still the dominant activity. As is the case elsewhere in the West Bank, agriculture is dominated by small, family-based farms depending on rain-fed cultivation. Industrial activities include sewing and garment enterprises, building materials and food processing characterised as elsewhere in the West Bank by high sole proprietorship and unpaid family participation. The collapse in revenues as a result of the closure has resulted in severe liquidity problems for local businesses. Because of Tulkarem's proximity to the 'green line', large numbers of Israelis, particularly Israeli Arabs used to come to Tulkarem to shop. Since the intifada this trade has declined and the city's shop, restaurants and other service providers are dramatically affected.

ASSISTANCE

Tulkarem refugee camp was established in 1950 on 180 dunums within the municipal boundaries of the town. It is the second largest camp in the West Bank with a registered refugee population of 15,780. An Italian-funded health centre was built in 1993 and a new girls' school in 1998 with funding from Saudi Arabia, which serves 1,000 pupils. UNRWA also runs a school for 1,300 boys. Nur Shams refugee camp is located about five kilometres outside Tulkarem town with a population of some 8,000 refugees, of whom 230 families are as special hardship cases (SHCs)

Prior to the intifada there were some 358 families registered as SHCs in Tulkarem camp, consisting of 1,030 beneficiaries; over the past three years the Agency, with contributions from the Government of Japan, has assisted around 230 poor refugee families (SHCs and non-SHCs) with shelter rehabilitation of their shelters

In order to expand access for residents of the region to modern medical facilities, UNDP is currently building a new hospital. The hospital basement and ground floor were rehabilitated in the first two phases. As part of the ongoing Phase 3, the first floor with a capacity of 84 beds is being constructed and the old hospital is being renovated to accommodate the operating theatre, pharmacy and outpatient clinics. UNDP is also one of the agencies providing emergency job creation projects in Tulkarem. An Italian NGO, CESVI is implementing an ECHO project in Tulkarem area, concentrating on kindergartens and including items distribution and training for teachers.

MISSION FINDINGS

Municipality

Palestinian municipalities are responsible for providing most urban services including water, electricity, waste disposal, the establishment and maintenance of schools, planning and building licenses, and road construction and maintenance. Since the beginning of the intifada, municipal finances have been severely stretched and they have not benefited from external budget support either from the Palestinian Authority or from donors. The World Bank estimates that municipal revenues have declined on average by 17% compared to pre-intifada levels. Local taxes (especially building and professional licenses) have declined because of decreased economic activity and user charges on water and electricity have similarly decreased.

The declines have resulted mainly from arrears as a result of households' inability to pay utility bills. According to a PCBS survey on the impact of the closure on Palestinian households, delaying bill payments was a major coping strategy for 54% of respondents. Many municipalities which relied on electricity to generate cash surpluses have been especially hit by this decline in electricity fee payments and three months of liabilities to the Israeli public water supplier, Mekorot, are common. Most municipalities have responded by cutting back on maintenance and reducing the level of services, especially garbage collection which account for the highest rate of utility expenditures and the largest share of municipal staffing. Most municipalities have been forced to forego new projects, at least temporarily; in the case of Tulkarem this includes plans for municipal parking, a mall a craft zone and a slaughterhouse.

Employment

An estimated 100,000 workers crossed daily into Israel from West Bank during the pre-intifada period; now approximately 55,000 enter, the vast majority clandestinely, with the possibility of fine and imprisonment. In the West Bank, Tulkarem and Jenin, 31 and 28 percent respectively, had the largest share of their workforce working in Israel. Approximately 20,000 have become unemployed in the Tulkarem governorate since the intifada and 10,000 families are now below the poverty line according to the Ministry of Social Welfare. Particularly affected are refugees whos are almost entirely dependent on work inside Israel, and poverty has risen in Tulkarem camp. The declaration of a new buffer zone between the Tulkarem and Jenin will further squeeze employment possibilities.

Prior to the re-occupation, after Ramallah/Al Bireh (38%) and Bethlehem (23%) Tulkarem sustained the most damage, estimated at $ 6.3 million, 21% of the West Bank aggregate, mostly to schools, ($3.5 million). The remaining damage was sustained to public and domestic water and sewage systems, roads, pavements and traffic islands, electricity poles and transformers, as well as private houses. The Committee for Losses and Damages presented the team with damage estimates in the following sectors during the re-occupation period: Roads and streets, $1.285 million; electricity network, $538,000; water supply and sanitation, $72,000.

Extensive damage was sustained to Tulkarem High Vocational School, (formerly part of the Kadoorie School) which serves 300 pupils, 17 to 18 years old. Six workshops were totally destroyed which trained pupils in carpentry, metalwork, air-conditioning maintenance, car mechanics, surveying and building, water heaters, plumbing and other skills etc at an estimated cost of 7 million NIS. The equipment destroyed had been donated by a number of international donors. Tow other educational institutions also housed on the Kadoorie campus, a technological college and the agricultural extension of An-Najah University of Nablus. In the latter, outhouses and equipment (donated by Cooperazione Italia) were destroyed and a number of livestock killed.

Among the public buildings affected were building belonging to the intelligence services, the DCO, the police station and the governor's building. The Tulkarem municipality estimates that some 150 families evacuated their homes during the October hostilities. For those who suffered damage to private houses the cash-strapped PA will attempt to compensate for structural repairs. Damage was also sustained to agricultural land, trees and green houses and to transformers and electric generators, causing iinterruptions to supply and systems breakdowns.

Since the start of the Intifada, 260 farmers have additionally reported direct damage and destruction to their farming infrastructure, particularly to irrigation networks. During this most recent re-occupation at least 60 farmers have reported damage to their water infrastructure, which is key in the functioning of agriculture. The water infrastructure for a Ministry of Agriculture nursery has been damaged three times. The last and third round of damages has reportedly completely destroyed the network.

Because of extensive devastation to water and sanitation services, more than 20,000 people at times were left without a water supply - at the time of the visit, more than 5,000 were estimated to be still without water. Initial estimates of damage put the network destruction at more than 17 km of water pipe and at least 7km of sewerage network. Many pipelines were buried underground far from defence installations and appeared to have been deliberately targeted and destroyed when pipelines were tied to tanks, pulling out several hundred metres of water pipe, leaving thousands of people without water.

Many sections of pipe have been repaired and destroyed several times which has resulted in many temporary repairs with pipes of ½" connecting significantly larger pipes, dramatically reducing the capacity of the network to serve the population. Many hundreds of metres of exposed water pipe have deliberately rolled over and flattened, making them completely useless to carry water. Whilst municipal staff were out trying to make repairs during the occupation, 2 of their vehicles were crushed and destroyed by tanks and bulldozers.

Tulkarm district water supply is served by the use of 7 boreholes. Due to the cuts and restarts of electricity by Israel, 3 of the 7 borehole pumps received electrical surge damage. The municipal authorities have only been able to repair one of the pumps: the 2 pumps which remain out of action mean a loss of 2,700,000 litres of water everyday to the population - approximately 20% of the normal delivery service. In attempting to continue the much needed service, the Municipality are purchasing 2,000,000 m3 of water from private wells at a cost of approximately $1,200 per day. Three chlorinators were also damaged during the re-occupation, leaving at least 30,000 people at risk from outbreaks of water borne diseases until they were repaired.

RECOMMENDATIONS/FOLLOW-UP

Advocacy for continuing support for the municipalities and for UNRWA to ensure ongoing municipal services and support to refugees.

Continuing monitoring of access points to Tulkarem to ensure safe passage of patients to medical facilities

Appeal top donors/agencies for emergency assistance to municipality for transformers, generators and essential water and sanitation equipment

Appeal to donors/agencies for emergency assistance to replace structures and equipment damage at Tulkarem High Vocational School, An-Najah University of Nablus and other educational institutions.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.