19 February 2015
10 - 17 February 2015 Issue 80
• Due to lack of funds, UNRWA last month was forced to suspend its cash assistance programme supporting repairs and providing rental subsidies to Palestine refugee families in Gaza. According to the initial Agency’s assessment concluded in December, 96,000 Palestine refugee dwellings were damaged or destroyed during last summer’s conflict and more than US$ 720 million is required to address this need. The Agency extended a one week window between 21-25 December 2014, for those refugee families who were not visited by a social worker but who consider themselves eligible to apply for an assessment. It is expected that the number of effected homes – mainly minor damage – will rise to over 100,000 when the extended assessment process concludes in March 2015. Donors have been generous, but it is not nearly enough – UNRWA has received only US$ 135 million in pledges, leaving a shortfall of US$ 585 million. UNRWA urgently requires US$ 100 million in the first quarter of 2015 to allow refugee families with minor damage to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies, including to the thousands of families who left UNRWA-run Collective Centres (CCs) and found alternative rental accommodation. UNRWA is concerned that if it cannot continue to provide rental subsidies, large numbers of affected families may return to the CCs.
• On 12 February in Ramallah, the Deputy Prime Minister of the State of Palestine, H.E. Dr. Mohammad Mustafa, and the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr. James Rawley, released the Strategic Response Plan (SRP) for 2015, which aims to address the humanitarian needs of 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. In remarks made at the 2015 SRP launch, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Robert Turner, reiterated the ongoing inability of UNRWA to pay shelter cash assistance to families. He said: “The population of Gaza is exhausted, frustrated and angry. The small remnants of hope for a better future which existed have been extinguished by this last terrible war and the political paralysis that exists. Palestinians remain trapped in Gaza, without any hope for political change which would bring about a lifting of the blockade. More than ever the people of Gaza, including the young and educated, just want to leave a context they believe will never provide an opportunity for a decent life, as we’ve seen from the numbers of people willing to risk their lives by illegally migrating, something unseen on this scale before. Within this context, the international community is failing to provide the people of Gaza with the bare minimum. Cash assistance, that would allow families who lost everything to rent a place to live, or to repair their own home, has been suspended. Thousands of families are waiting, but we – UNRWA and UNDP - have no money. If we cannot restart the provision of rental subsidies, people, including those who left our collective centres and found alternative accommodation, may be forced to return to those centres. Our inability to pay also undermines the trust of the community we enjoy, puts our staff – including social workers and engineers – at risk, and our entire operation in Gaza. “ His remarks also recognized that this year’s SRP is designed to address different layers of humanitarian need in Gaza, layers created by repeated conflicts and the tragic de-development of a middle-income economy brought on by the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza, now in its eighth year. “That the international community continues to be asked year by year to fill humanitarian gaps in the absence of the relevant responsible groups is a failure. The real tragedy is that this lack of hope is entirely the result of policy decisions taken by politicians in Israel, and also in Palestine. That this is entirely man-made is the tragedy,” said Mr. Turner. The main priorities of the 2015 SRP are captured here: SRP Fact Sheet.
• The 2015 SRP requests US$705 million to carry out 207 projects presented by 77 organizations, including UNRWA. According to a joint press release issued at the launch event, almost 80 per cent of the funding sought is to provide shelter and non-food items and to enhance food security. More than 75 per cent of the requested funds target the needs in Gaza. The most urgent requirement for UNRWA in Gaza is shelter assistance – be it in form of rental subsidies for those whose homes are uninhabitable or in form of providing opportunities for those with damaged homes to make necessary repairs.
• The United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Mr. Nabil Elaraby, issued a joint statement urgently appealing to donors to honour and disburse their financial commitments made at the Cairo Conference in October 2014. The progress that has been made so far under the temporary government-led Gaza reconstruction mechanism was highlighted; however, the statement noted that the pace of reconstruction in Gaza remains slow: “It is crucial now to expand the scope of reconstruction efforts thus far to bring hope to the people of Gaza and ensure stability, based on international responsibility in reconstruction and lifting the siege.”
The call for the international community to adhere to its commitments made in Cairo last year was further reiterated in a press release issued by British Member of the European Parliament and Chair of the delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council (DPLC), Ms. Martina Anderson. The press release called on all donors to meet their aid promises so that UNRWA can continue its work and support the needs of Palestinian refugees in rebuilding their lives after the 2014 summer conflict. “If the international community has not the political will to address the root causes of the conflict in Palestine, then at the very least we should stop taking it out on the most vulnerable people in Gaza,” said Ms. Anderson.
• “Gaza is a metaphor for all that is wrong,” wrote Mr. Tony Blair in an article after visiting Gaza on 14 February. The former British Prime Minister and now Representative of the Office of the Quartet (United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia) met with Ministers, local businesses, community leaders, as well as affected families and staff at an UNRWA-run Collective Centre that provides emergency accommodation for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). According to Mr. Blair, the reality on the ground – a devastated infrastructure and a beleaguered society worn down people – is not conducive to peace. He criticized the international community (and thereby himself) for the many unfulfilled promises. He called on Israel to lift the economic blockade and on the Palestinian factions to reconcile so that Gaza can open up and reconnect to the world. In the article, Blair expresses that pre-conditions to a successful peace process are threefold: a dramatic improvement in the daily lives of Palestinians; unified Palestinian politics in favour of a two-state solution; and an enhanced role for the region, in alliance with the international community, which must step up to share leadership of the issue. The Quartet was formed in 2002 and aims at mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
• On 16 February, the Qatar-based Education Above All’s Al Fakhooraprogramme signed agreements worth US$ 40 million with UNRWA, UNDP and UNICEF to support reconstruction, rehabilitation and psychosocial support projects in the education sector in Gaza. The support is timely and allows UNRWA to work towards restoring a safe and effective learning environment for the more than 240,000 children enrolled in its schools across the Strip. “School should be a place where children feel safe, secure and free to explore their potential. However, last summer’s conflict means that too many schools in Gaza no longer represent that haven,” commented the Deputy Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Scott Anderson. Education Above All is a global initiative founded in 2012 by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser of Qatar. Its Al Fakhoora programme works to provide young people in Gaza with an education during conflict and post-conflict periods. The US$ 40 million was donated to the Al Fakhoora programme in November 2014 by the Qatar Development Fund.
• As part of UNRWA education department’s Adopt-A-School Initiative, UNRWA has just marked the third anniversary of the adoption of the Khalifa Bin Zayad School in Beit Lahia, by the Khalifa Bin Zayad Al Nahyan Foundation (KBZF). During the celebration generously by KBZF. For the 2014/2015 school calendar year US$1.5 million was pledged.
As an innovative means to promote a human rights based approach to the education of Palestine students in Gaza and support the right of children to live free of violence, UNRWA teamed up with the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights for its annual training and prestigious art prize. The partnership supported over 3,500 school children aged 6-17 years from UNRWA and government schools across the Gaza Strip, who took part in human rights-centred training. During the reporting period the drawings of 36 children were exhibited and honoured.
• UNRWA remains committed to addressing critical shortfalls in waste management capacity across the Gaza Strip. Twelve new refuse removal vehicles worth approximately US $1,514,000 were delivered this week, as part of the Agency’s on-going Upgrading Solid Waste Management project, generously funded by the Islamic Development Bank. Deputy Director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, Scott Anderson, said the new vehicles were, “a key part of ensuring Gaza has the capacity to cope with both present and future waste management demands and maintaining clean, healthy living environments for Palestine refugee families in Gaza.”
• On a visit to Gaza on 16 February, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Charlie Flanagan, announced a new €500,000 (approximately US$ 570,000) contribution to the 2015 Gaza Emergency Appeal. During the visit, the Irish delegation witnessed the consequences of last summer’s war in the hard-hit neighbourhood of Shujaiyya in the north of Gaza. The Minister also visited an UNRWA school, to see the impact of Ireland’s commitment to supporting education for all children. The delegation also visited an UNRWA Collective Centre, where he met with displaced families. In a press release issued on the day of the visit, the Minister commented: “The sheer scale of the destruction and the devastating humanitarian impact on a largely refugee population is truly shocking.” UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Pierre Krähenbühl, accompanied the delegation, and added: “The people and government of Ireland set a great example to the world in terms of their support for Palestine refugees.” Ireland is a long-standing supporter of the Agency. In 2014, Ireland’s contribution to UNRWA totalled over US$ 8 million, including US$ 1.3 million towards the Gaza Flash Appeal.
• UNRWA still provides shelter and basic services to almost 11,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in 15 Agency-run Collective Centres (CCs). During the reporting period, UNRWA’s Collective Centre Management Unit (CCMU) distributed more than 25,800 food rations, including hot meals, to all IDPs in its CCs across the Gaza Strip.
Operational environment: The number of protests and civil unrest continued during the reporting period, with demonstrations calling for faster reconstruction and lifting the blockade, and against the killing of three Palestinian students in the USA all featuring. Protests outside UN installations and INGO offices were reported. Despite UNRWA’s suspension of the shelter cash assistance programme due to lack of funding, it still seems to benefit from its image and performance during the conflict which saw UNRWA installations as the safest haven for the population and the Agency as the primary aid provider. On 16 and 17 February, sit-ins were held in front of UNRWA Rafah Warehouse. The protest was against excluding the families from Saudi Housing Project phase three. The demonstrators forced UNRWA employees to leave and closed the office. Demonstrators also moved to UNRWA’s RSSP Rafah West Office and UNRWA employees were forced to leave and close the office. Similar sit-ins were held on 10 February.
UNRWA’S GAZA GATEWAY: PROVIDING A NEW CHANCE FOR GAZA’S YOUTH
As part of its ongoing commitment to enhancing employment prospects for young Palestine refugees in Gaza, UNRWA is piloting a new social enterprise, the Gaza Gateway. The initiative is designed to help young IT (information technology) graduates gain work experience and employability training in an effort to create new opportunities within the devastated Gaza economy. “It is like a survival kit. It changes your life and gives you a chance,” said Ahmed, a 27 year old recent graduate involved in the Gateway.
Approximately 1,000 Gazans like Ahmed graduate with computer-related degrees in Gaza each year. However, in 2014, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) data estimated a 75.1 per cent unemployment rate for Computer Science graduates, making it the sector with the highest rate of unemployment amongst the specialties studied.
Refugee unemployment in Gaza reached 45.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2014, the highest level ever reported in UNRWA’s PCBS-based records. The IT industry in Gaza is essentially trapped in a negative cycle: graduates need training and experience to refine their employable skills, but without a stronger skills base, companies cannot grow sufficiently to generate employment. UNRWA’s new initiative responds to this challenge by building a bridge from IT graduation to private sector employability, with a view to demonstrating that Gaza can deliver competitive commercial services.
The new social enterprise is also timely - offering a beacon of hope to young people in the early recovery period following the 50 days of hostilities in summer 2014. The Gaza Gateway team and program participants were personally affected by the hostilities and some lost homes, family and friends. The opportunity to work and focus on their future is welcomed by all of them. “I was looking for a job for three years and at some point I felt like my mind stopped thinking,” recalls 26 year old Rose, who works as a team leader for the Gateway. “It was frustrating. Gaza Gateway gives us energy to achieve things despite the difficult situation.”
The social enterprise leverages the short and medium-term IT needs of UNRWA into a permanent part of Gaza’s employment infrastructure. Business and social aims are inextricable parts of a single solution: Gaza’s first learning workplace. While working with the Gateway for approximately 12 months, graduates operate as Project Associates and spend regular time in structured skills training to develop an employable CV. “There is a lot of training included, it is not just work,” comments Ahmed. And Rose adds: “Gaza Gateway is different because the main purpose is training in topics that are actually relevant for the market. This gives our careers a future.”
During each Gaza Gateway project, the social enterprise will identify and work with Gaza IT firms interested in sub-contracting the project and the Project Associates who have become qualified to complete the work. The firms will gain commercial experience, and the Project Associates will move to private sector employment.
The Gaza Gateway is an UNRWA initiative that is being implemented with the support of a three-year US$ 1.3 million contribution from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). Korea is an increasingly important UNRWA donor, making generous contributions to both the General Fund and emergency appeals. Korea’s total contribution to UNRWA has increased from US$ 61,000 in 2012 to US$ 1.1 million in 2014. Recent support has been both crucial and timely – addressing the desperate needs of Palestine refugees living through crises.
SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS
During the reporting week, there were a number of incidences of the IDF opening fire towards Palestinians near the fence and at Palestinian boats. On 11 February, an IED exploded in an abandoned house in the market area. On 15 February, militants fired two test rockets from North West of Gaza City towards the sea. No injuries were reported. On 16 February, militants fired two mortars towards Israel. Both dropped short and landed inside Gaza near the fence. No injuries or damage reported.
At approximately 17:25 on 16 February, UNRWA staff discovered smoke coming from a closed room at a Collective Centre (CC) in Beit Hanoun. UNRWA immediately contacted the civil defense and the cause of the fire is being investigated. Preliminary reports indicate that one infant died and two others were injured, reportedly as a result of the fire. The Agency extends sincere condolences to the affected family and has made a counsellor available. For UNRWA, the issue of the safety and security of IDPS sheltering in its Collective Centres is a matter of paramount importance. The Agency has recently conducted fire safety training, including for Collective Centre staff in Beit Hanoun, and undertook a review of power grids in the CCs to promote a safe environment within the CCs.
To respond to the needs arising from the July/August conflict UNRWA is seeking USD 1.6 billion for emergency relief, early recovery and reconstruction priorities in the Gaza Strip. More information can be found here (PDF). Information is found in Arabic here (PDF).
On 9 December 2014, UNRWA launched the oPt Emergency Appeal in Geneva. For its 2015 emergency operations in Gaza, the Agency is seeking USD 366.6 million, 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 during the reporting period.
• The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff during the week. On 13 February, Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 14 February.
• Kerem Shalom was open from 11-12 February and between 15-17 February. It was closed on 13 and 14 February.