24 September 2016
• An extra-ordinary meeting of the UNRWA Advisory Commission (AdCom) took place in Amman, Jordan, in mid-September. UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl addressed the AdCom, stating that the 5.3 million Palestine refugees are now worse off than at any time since 1948. “Fifty years of occupation and ten years of blockade in Palestine are etched into the soul and identity of the refugee community,” he stated, adding that the young generation of Palestine refugees is losing faith in politics and diplomacy. During his speech, he focused on the Agency’s ongoing financial problems which do not allow for programming, but only for crisis management, year after year. “Never have the Palestine refugees felt so isolated, so restless and so full of despair. Never has their future looked so dark. Never have young Palestine refugees been exposed to so many pressures and never has the need to protect their hope and skills been more acute,” he concluded. In mid-September, the Commissioner-General also addressed the League of Arab States in Cairo, Egypt, calling for financial and political support to UNRWA, reiterating that the Agency is a witness of Palestine refugees’ “historic injustice and has a responsibility to sound the alarm on behalf of a refugee community that is sinking into the abyss under our very watch.” Further, on 13 September the UN General Assembly opened its 71st session. For the first time, the assembly will hold a high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants, with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach. The goal is to develop a blueprint for a better international response to the global refugee crisis. The Summit will be attended by heads of state and government, ministers, and leaders from the UN system – including UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl - , civil society, private sector, international organizations, and academia. The 5.3 million Palestine refugees make up 40 per cent of persons world-wide who are living in a protracted refugee situation; over 1.3 million people’s freedom of movement is limited to the tiny 365 square kilometre Gaza enclave, approximately the size of 34 football pitches.
• The UNRWA TV team – based in Gaza – has produced a Back to Schoolcampaign video for all five fields of UNRWA operations, promoting the theme “Education beyond the front line: more than a school, bigger than a book.” At the end of August over 263,220 students in Gaza started the school year 2016-2017. They are taught by over 8,520 teachers in 267 schools (in 166 school buildings; 155 elementary schools, 112 preparatory schools). At the beginning of the school year, the Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP) handed over 16 new schools to the Education Programme, accommodating thousands of new students. In spite of that, 6 schools in Gaza continue to operate on a triple shift basis and 185 operate on a double shift basis due to the ever increasing number of students, creating pressure on the Agency’s services. To support the learning activities of refugee students with additional, creative material, UNRWA TV, together with the Education Programme, is currently also producing multimedia educational episodes on the subjects English, Arabic, Science and Mathematics; they will soon be broadcast on UNRWA TV.
• To increase traffic safety and raise awareness on accidents occurring on Salah El Din road – one of the main roads spanning the entire length of Gaza – UNRWA students from grade four to nine from central Gaza organized a public awareness activity next to an UNRWA school located near the same road in the Gaza Middle Area. They were supported by the UNRWA Chief Area Officer of Gaza Middle Area, UNRWA education staff, parents’ councils, community leaders, as well as the police and representatives from ministries. In the past, high speed and a lack of possibilities to cross the road in a safe manner have led to accidents, resulting in the death of two UNRWA students and a major injury leading to disability for one student. About 500 persons participated in the activity, urging authorities to implement measures for people to safely cross the road. The outreach activity was part of a larger traffic awareness campaign and a second event will be held at Beach road, another major street crossing through Gaza along the Gaza coast.
• The UNRWA Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP) maintains a huge portfolio of construction and reconstruction activities in Gaza, ranging from the self-help shelter repair and reconstruction programme to sewerage and infrastructure projects, the construction of health centres and schools and a variety of maintenance works at existing facilities. From January to August 2016, ICIP constructed and finalized 16 new school buildings. In August, the programme finished the construction of a public library at Rafah Elementary Co-ed School, in southern Gaza. The project had started in November 2015 with a view to enhance literacy in the community, encourage critical thought and supplement the school curricula. In August ICIP also casted the second floor slab in the Arts building of Al Azhar University, a project funded by the Saudi Fund for Development and supervised by UNRWA, due to its technical expertise. Further, as part of the continuous development of ICIP staff, the programme implemented an internal training on the Water Cad software for design engineers to increase their skills in planning, design and operation of water distribution systems and modelling.
• Through its Microfinance Programme (MP) UNRWA tries to encourage business development and self-reliance among Palestine refugees in Gaza, despite a crippled economy, unable to create jobs and opportunities for the majority of the population. The MP maintains seven different loan products and in August 2016, it disbursed 455 loans valued US$ 736,390. Since 1991 the MP issued 115,451 loans worth approximately US$ 150 million. Through the MP, UNRWA promotes gender equality and creates opportunities for youth: over 40 per cent of the MP clients are women, and approximately 13 per cent of them are below 24 years of age. Besides the loan products, the MP also provides business training courses for professionals, graduates or students through its Small and Medium Enterprise Business Training Programme (SMET), including courses on "Job Hunting", "Project Management" and "Gender Awareness". This month, the MP implemented 14 courses for 252 participants, over 50 per cent of them women.
• In advance of the Ad-hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) meeting for development assistance to the Palestinian people taking place this month in New York, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund,the Office of the Quartet as well as the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) published reports to the AHLC. The reports focus on the fiscal difficulties and pressure on the Palestinian economy due to security and political restrictions and uncertainties, the dire outlook for economic growth, reduced donor funding, and the lack of reconstruction, long-term recovery and development of critical infrastructure in Gaza due to the blockade, among other topics. The AHLC is a 15-member committee that serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people. It is chaired by Norway and co-sponsored by the US and the EU. The AHLC seeks to promote dialogue between donors, the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel. The Chair’s Summary can be found here.
THE UNRWA SHELTER UPDATE
UNRWA was able to disburse over US$ 2.1 million for reconstruction (~US$ 1.9 million) and severe repair works (~US$ 218,700). The funds will reach a total of 258 refugee families across Gaza; they will able to access their assistance this week.
Overview of assistance disbursed
As of 22 September 2016:
• Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, the Agency has distributed over US$ 208.7 million(excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or destroyed during the 2014 summer conflict.
• The UNRWA shelter assessment confirmed 142,071 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during the 2014 conflict; 9,117 of them are considered totally destroyed. 5,417 shelters have suffered severe, 3,700 major and 123,837 minor damages.
Completed and ongoing payments
• UNRWA has completed the payments to over 67,060 refugee families for minor repair works, to 3,580 families to repair their severely damaged shelters, to 14 families for major repair works, and to 326 families for reconstruction.
• Payment transfers for over 11,160 refugee families to continue repair works of their shelters and for over 1,000 families to continue the reconstruction of their shelters are ongoing.
• UNRWA continues to pay transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA) for eligible refugee families still displaced by the 2014 conflict. All approximately 8,500 eligible families have received the first tranche of rental subsidy payments for 2016, and all approximately 8,000 eligible families received the second quarter payment. In 2015, UNRWA paid TSCA to approximately 9,000 eligible refugee families and from September to December 2014 13,250 families received rental subsidy payments.
Funding gaps and needs – reconstruction
UNRWA has secured funding to reconstruct 2,000 totally destroyed homes. Funding is currently not the biggest barrier to reconstruct homes. Residential reconstruction has been delayed due to initial delays in agreeing a formula to import construction materials under the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, complex documentation requirements related to proving title to land, obtaining building and municipal permit, as well as funding shortages in the longer term. For all reconstruction, UNRWA prioritizes families based on poverty status (an excellent indicator for vulnerability in this context) and larger families, unlike other reconstruction actors in Gaza. In order to mitigate the barriers these families face in particular, UNRWA outreach engineers assist eligible families in gathering relevant documentation.
• Payments to over 6,060 refugee families to start repairing their totally destroyed homes are outstanding.
• The total cost of reconstructing their homes amounts to approximately US$ 272.9 million.
• Approximately 7,000 eligible refugee families still displaced by the 2014 conflict are waiting to receive transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA) for the third quarter in 2016. The US$ 23.3 million in TSCA needed to assist the 2014 conflict emergency caseload in 2016 has been included in the oPt Emergency Appeal 2016.
Funding gaps and needs – repair works
For repairs of damages of all categories (minor, major and severe), the principal barrier to completing the outstanding repairs is funding. If current conditions remain, including adequate amounts of building material entering Gaza, UNRWA estimates that repairs could be completed within six months from receipt of sufficient funding.
• Over 60,150 families have not received any payments to undertake repair works for their minor damaged homes (total estimate repair costs: US$ 67.9 million).
• 3,195 families have not received any payments to repair or start repairing their major damaged homes (total estimate repair costs: US$ 28.7 million).
• Payments to over 1,080 families to repair or start repairing their severely damaged homes are outstanding (total estimate costs: US$ 9.7 million).
• Out of these, UNRWA has processed the documents of approximately 56,900 families with damaged shelters and could disburse payments (first and second tranche payments) to these families immediately upon receipt of funding.
• During the reporting weeks, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a regular basis. On two occasions Palestinian militants fired some gunshots towards Israeli forces patrolling the fence. In response, Israeli troops fired shells towards Hamas and Islamic Jihad military sites and two houses in northern Gaza; four houses sustained damage. Israeli forces also fired shells towards Hamas training sites on another occasion. In addition, in one incident some bullets were allegedly fired from the Egyptian side towards Palestinian areas. One Palestinian who entered Israel through the maritime border in northern Gaza was arrested by Israeli forces.
• Regular protests took place, mostly in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails or to demand job opportunities and housing compensation from UNRWA. In addition, civilians, mostly youth, continued to protest near the perimeter fence expressing their eagerness to defend Al Aqsa Mosque and in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank. When some of them approached the perimeter fence and threw stones towards Israeli observation posts, Israeli forces responded with gun fire and tear gas. One person was killed and four persons injured by Israeli gunfire, and one suffered from gas inhalation.
• The Israeli Air Force fired four missiles targeting Hamas military sites in Gaza. No injuries were reported. Egyptian forces fired four shells towards Gaza; they landed in an open area in southern Gaza. No injuries were reported. Militants fired 14 test rockets towards the sea and 6 rockets towards Israel; two exploded at the launching site, three dropped short and one landed in an open area in southern Israel. No injuries or damage were reported. Eighteen Israeli bulldozers and seven tanks entered approximately 50-70 metres into Gaza on several occasions to conduct clearing and excavation operations. They withdrew on the same day.
Several family disputes took place across Gaza during which edged weapons, sticks or fire arms were used. In one dispute three persons sustained injuries by fire arms.
6-year-old Palestine refugee student Mohammed Al Sharif during a class at
the Rafah UNRWA Elementary Co-ed C School.
© 2016 UNRWA Photo by Mohammad Al Hennawi
Eight-year old Soujoud Al-Sharif and her six-year old brother Mohammad are living with their family in Rafah, southern Gaza. Both children were born with a physical disability, resulting in the need for a wheelchair. Due to insufficient infrastructure, they cannot go to school by themselves.
“I bring and pick my children up from school every day, and in the meantime I go to work myself; every day, I carry them both up and down from the fourth floor where we are living*, and even if this takes quite some time and effort, I am happy to do so. No matter how much effort a family needs to provide to its children, they deserve it and family members should always support each other. I am just lucky to see my children going to a regular UNRWA school, the same as other kids,” explained 40-year old Emad Al Sharif, the father of Soujoud and Mohammad.
What Emad described also applies to UNRWA’s Inclusive Education Policy: Special Needs students are encouraged to attend UNRWA schools where teachers help them integrate into mainstream schooling by providing them with extra support if needed.
Mohammad seems to be satisfied with his school and teachers, even though he cannot play and do sports together with the other children during breaks. Instead, he often draws together with his best friend Nada. “I mostly like drawing trees,” he specifies.
UNRWA has moved all of Mohammad’s and Soujoud’s classes to the ground floor of the school, as there are no elevators available. It was also UNRWA that provided both children with wheelchairs.
In case students are not able to attend regular schools because more specialised support is needed, the Agency refers students to Community-Based Rehabilitation Centres (CBRCs). UNRWA currently supports seven CBRCs across the Gaza Strip providing services to persons with disabilities, including educational services to approximately 750 refugee children. Furthermore, the Agency directly supports 128 visually impaired children through the UNRWA Rehabilitation Centre for Visually Impaired in Gaza city. There are also 11 learning support centres in Gaza, each of which provides special services to children in need.
To achieve the best results for children with special needs, UNRWA also actively engages with parents, providing them with as much information as possible on how they themselves can support the learning process of their children. Moreover, the Agency’s teachers are all trained on the Inclusive Education approach in order to enable them to identify and respond to the diverse needs of students in a professional manner.
UNRWA’s approach to inclusive education is aligned with the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, wherein Sustainable Development Goal number four is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” It recognizes that education is essential for the success of all the SDGs.
* The chronical electricity crisis in Gaza leads to power cuts of 16-18 hours per day, meaning also that most elevators are not running.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall, projected for 2016 to stand at US$ 74 million. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s Programme Budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
Following the 2014 conflict, US$ 257 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency shelter programme, for which an estimated US$ 720 million is required. This leaves a current shortfall of US$ 463 million. UNRWA urgently appeals to donors to generously contribute to its emergency shelter programme to provide displaced Palestine refugees in Gaza with rental subsidies or cash assistance to undertake repair works and reconstruction of their damaged homes.
As presented in UNRWA’s occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) Emergency Appeal for 2016, the Agency is seeking US$ 403 million to meet the minimum humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees in the oPt. The Agency requires US$ 355.95 million for programme interventions in Gaza, including US$ 109.7 million for emergency food assistance, US$ 142.3 million for emergency shelter assistance, US$ 60.4 million for emergency cash-for-work assistance, US$ 4.4 million for emergency health/mobile health clinics and US$ 3.1 for education in emergencies. More information can be found here.
Longstanding restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza have undermined the living conditions of 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. Israel prevents all access to and from the Gaza Strip by sea and air.Movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza is restricted to three crossings: Rafah crossing, Erez crossing and Kerem Shalom crossing. Rafah crossing is controlled by the Egyptian authorities and technically allows for the movement of a number of authorized travelers, Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases only. Erez crossing is controlled by Israeli authorities and technically allows for the movement of aid workers and limited numbers of authorized travelers, including Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases. Kerem Shalom crossing, also controlled by Israeli authorities, technically allows for the movement of authorized goods only.
• Rafah crossing was open from 6 to 8 September in both directions. It was closed during the remainder of the reporting weeks.
• Erez crossing is usually open six days a week. This week it was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and international staff from 6 to 8 and 11 to 15 September. On 9 and 16 September it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 10 and 17 September.
• Kerem Shalom crossing is the only official crossing open for the transfer of goods into and out of the Strip and is usually open five days a week. It was open from 6 to 8 and 11 to 15 September. It was closed on 9, 10, 16 and 17 September.