Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) is critical and deteriorated sharply in 2020. It is causing deep insecurity amongst Palestine refugees across Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. This Emergency Appeal lays out the responses required in 2021 to mitigate the impact of the crisis on this vulnerable community.
In Gaza, Palestine refugees are struggling with high levels of poverty, food insecurity and joblessness, as the illegal blockade entered its fourteenth year in 2020. Economic indicators reflect the severity of the protracted crisis. The unemployment rate stood at 49 per cent in the third quarter of 2020.1 Though measures of poverty vary, the UN cites a rate of 80 percent, and an estimated 10 per cent increase as a result of COVID-19.
The crisis has eroded coping mechanisms and the living conditions of Palestine refugees who remain highly dependent on the humanitarian assistance provided by UNRWA to meet basic needs. Despair and hopelessness experienced by many Palestine refugees, in particular youth, are stoked by repeated conflict cycles with Israel, instability, prohibitions on travel to study or work outside Gaza, and a lack of access to clean water. The situation is taking a heavy toll on the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of individuals and communities, with women and children at particular risk.
As of 31 December 2020, 39,867 COVID-19 cases and 356 deaths had been recorded in Gaza.2 While the pandemic in Gaza was contained during the first six months of 2020, the first local transmission cases were reported at the end of August, with numbers increasing since then. This has put an enormous strain on the already degraded public health system, which has been weakened by years of shortages in medical personnel and supplies. Schools have also closed for long periods, and remote learning modalities activated to ensure continuity of education.
In the West Bank, Palestine refugees are an especially vulnerable group, with higher than average rates of unemployment and poverty. They are subjected to a range of protection threats arising from the Israeli occupation. In 2020, Israeli Security Forces (ISF) mounted operations regularly, often in refugee camps resulting in injuries and at times deaths. Israeli settler violence against Palestinians has also continued.
Protection threats have increased significantly in the wake of the pandemic. In the first nine months of 2020,
UNRWA registered a worrisome increase in the number executive summary of demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures, as well as in the displacement of Palestinian families, with refugees disproportionately affected. Restrictions on freedom of movement, expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and widespread exposure of children to violence and the risk of detention by Israeli authorities also continued.
The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the public health system and economy in the West Bank.
As of 31 December 2020, the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH) reported 114,709 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,158 deaths in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Large numbers of Palestine refugees have lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic.
This Emergency Appeal lays out the responses required in 2021 to mitigate the impact of the crisis on this vulnerable community addressing the most urgent needs caused by the occupation and COVID-19.
To implement these responses effectively in the Gaza Strip and West Bank including East Jerusalem, UNRWA seeks US$ 231 million to cover operating requirements of this Emergency Appeal during 2021.