4 - 11 August 2015/Issue 105
• Last The infant mortality rate in Gaza has risen for the first time in five decades, according to an UNRWA study released this week.. The number of babies dying before the age of one had consistently decreased over recent decades in Gaza, from 127 per 1,000 live births in 1960 to 20.2 in 2008. But at the last count, in 2013, it had risen to 22.4 per 1,000 live births. The rate of neonatal mortality, which is the number of babies that die before four weeks old, has also gone up significantly in Gaza, from 12 per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 20.3 in 2013. “Infant mortality is one of the best indicators for the health of the community,” said Dr. Akihiro Seita, Director of UNRWA’s health programme. “It reflects on the mother and child’s health and in the U.N. Millennium Development Goals it is one of the key indicators.” Such an increase here is unprecedented in Dr. Seita’s experience working in the Middle East. “Progress in combatting infant mortality doesn’t usually reverse. This seems to be the first time we have seen an increase like this,” Dr. Seita said. “The only other examples I can think of are in some African countries which experienced HIV epidemics” and UNRWA’s Health Director thus explains that the blockade may be contributing to this unprecedented trend. The Agency will carry out another region-wide survey of Palestinian refugees in 2018. However, UNRWA will conduct one this year in Gaza alone because of these latest figures.
• On 10 August, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held a video chat with three UNRWA school students and one teacher in Gaza. The Secretary-General told the Palestine refugee children that despite the many obstacles and difficulties in their daily lives, they remained committed to education and were, as a result, “an inspiration” to all. The video discussion gave the students and teacher the opportunity to voice their dreams and share what having an education means to them. “It is common sense to invest millions in education instead of billions in weapons,” said Mr Ban, who explained that he had been urging world leaders to ramp up material support for UNRWA. “The cost of education is low,” he added. “The price of inaction is too high.” As things currently stand, UNRWA only has enough money to maintain its services essential to protect public health including immunizations for children, primary health care, relief and sanitation and some emergency programmes through to the end of 2015. For the while, available funding is insufficient to guarantee the stable provision of its education services from September until the end of 2015. Bayyan Haniyya, a ten-year-old Palestine refugee girl from Beach camp, called on the UN chief to help defend her right to education despite the dwindling resources. “I want to become a doctor so I can help my people and serve my nation,” she told the Secretary-General. “I appeal to you to help Palestine refugee children go back to school and achieve their potential.”
• UNRWA, has warned in a report to the United Nations Secretary-General, that “unless funding for the full amount of the Agency’s General Fund shortfall of US$ 101 million is secured by the middle of August, the financial crisis may force the suspension of services relating to the Agency’s education programme. This would mean a delay in the school year for half a million students attending some 700 schools and 8 vocational training centres across the Middle East.” UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl, underlined that in presenting this report, the Agency is seeking to draw attention at the highest levels of the international community to the consequences for Palestine refugee children: “Nothing is more important for these children in terms of their dignity and identity than the education they receive. We are simply not allowed to let them down.” The report makes clear that “refugee communities, including UNRWA staff, are protesting these actions, and tensions are increasingly visible in the 58 camps, as UNRWA is forced to deal with the consequences of the lack of funding. In renewing the Agency’s mandate, the General Assembly has routinely commended the Agency for the vital assistance to Palestine refugees it has provided and its role as a stabilizing factor in the region.” The special report goes on to set out proposals for putting UNRWA on more secure financial footing in future years.
• UNRWA’s financial situation remains dire. A video interview with Sandra Mitchell, UNRWA’s Deputy Commissioner-General, explaining the financial situation of the Agency and its potential impact on education services was recorded by UNRWA TV during her visit to Gaza earlier in the month. In the interview, broadcasted on UNRWA TV and disseminated to news stations and via social media in English and Arabic languages, the Deputy Commissioner-General explains the efforts UNRWA is undertaking to fill the current US$ 101 million deficit in its General Fund and potential consequences for refugees if sufficient funding is not received in the near term. . Mrs Mitchell stated that no decision about the potential delay of the school year 2015/2016 has been taken yet, and that the Commissioner-General will take a decision in mid-August to give donors more time to respond to these critical funding shortages. In the meantime the Agency will intensify its fundraising efforts to secure the necessary funding.
• UNRWA continues to implement approved construction projects, and in July 20 infrastructure projects worth over US $44 million were under implementation in July. These are projects for which UNRWA is coordinating the import of the necessary construction material. They include the construction or reconstruction of schools and clinics, as well as two housing projects, and infrastructure projects, including flood prevention measures by improving the sewage and drainage system in Khan Younis camp. During the month of July, UNRWA received from the Coordination of the Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) approval for three projects, including for the construction of a library and for maintenance projects. Five project approvals are pending. Some of the construction materials excluded from clearances in previous months were cleared except for wood with thickness of over 3 cm, which was added to the prohibited materials list in April. The UNRWA engineering department is in the process of identifying alternative ways of assembling the doors for which this wood is required. UNRWA Gaza’s July 2015 construction update is attached.
• According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), construction activity in Gaza has caught up with pre-war levels, as opposed to other sectors, such as manufacturing and agriculture, which are struggling to recover. Whilst construction projects provide employment opportunities in the coastal enclave, the PCBS states that unemployment stood at 41.6 per cent in Q1, 2015, a decrease from the previous quarter but still one of the highest worldwide. Education does not guarantee employment in Gaza, and unemployment reached 69.5 per cent amongst graduates. The highest unemployment rate in Gaza was recorded amongst graduates specialized in teacher training and education science (78.1 per cent). There are also indications that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the first quarter (Q1) of 2015 increased by 6.2 per cent compared to the fourth quarter of 2014. It is understood that this is driven mainly by the construction sector, whose added value nearly doubled over just one quarter.
• The Safety and Security Division (SSD) Training Team in Gaza was formed in early 2015 to teach the core elements of safety and security to the UNRWA Gaza guard force. The creation of the training team came after an assessment identified the need to strengthen the safety and security knowledge of UNRWA guards in order to respond to the challenges encountered in the course of their duties. The team consists of a Training Coordinator, Training Officer, and three Safety and Security Trainers, and commenced operations from the Khan Younis Training Centre (KYTC) in late April. The training team first completed an induction course, under the direction of the Training Coordinator, in safety and security-related skills such as fire safety (including the usage of fire extinguishers), first aid, and communications, as well as developing their teaching technique. The first training course was delivered to guards in the first week of May. Since that time, over 1,000 UNRWA personnel have been trained in a variety of skills, including techniques to preserve the neutrality and security of UNRWA installations, searching techniques for vehicles, bags, and personnel, and contingency plans for dealing with break-ins and other incidents. The SSD Training Team has also provided support to other UNRWA programmes and projects employing guards: In July the Training Team trained 300 guards who would be supporting the operations of the Summer Fun Weeks (SFW). At this time, in addition to the almost daily induction training of guards, the team runs first-aid training every Thursday, and fire safety training every third Thursday. Training needs analysis exercises are ongoing to identify other areas where the training team can add value to the professionalism and effectiveness of the guard force.
• After three weeks operating across the Gaza Strip, the 2015 Summer Fun Weeks Projects concludes on Thursday, 13 August. From Rafah to the North, from Khan Younis to Gaza, as well as in the Middle area, tens of thousands of Palestine refugee children played sport, created handicrafts, made new friends, learned new skills. Participants enjoyed theatre shows, exercise and making art from painted clay pottery, painting group murals, and individual drawings. The young people expressed their artistic selves and had the chance to let themselves, their family, and friends know who they were and how they felt. The Summer Fun Weeks allowed children in Gaza to play and be “in the moment” without fear or anxiety. Something they will remember and hold onto as long as possible.
• Shelter Update
• Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, the Agency has distributed over US$ 114.8 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or demolished during the 2014 summer conflict. To date, UNRWA has completed the payments to over 60,000 Palestine refugee families – almost half of the caseload – for minor repair works and to 348 families to repair their severely damaged shelters.
• The funding for 11,729 families to continue repair or reconstruct their shelters is secured and ongoing. Furthermore, as of 11 August 2015, 12,528 families have received a rental subsidy payment to cover the period from September to December 2014 and 72,138 families have received payments to undertake repair works.
Due to lack of sufficient funding, to date 53,642 eligible families still have not received the first tranche for repair works of their shelter and 7,350 have not received the second tranche to continue repair works. UNRWA has processed these cases and they have received approval through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism; as soon as funding is secured, the Agency can distribute the urgently needed financial support to these families.
• UNRWA engineers confirmed 139,817 Palestine refugee houses were impacted during last summer’s conflict; 9,117 of them are considered totally demolished. 5,000 shelters have suffered severe, 3,700 major and 122,000 minor, damages.
Operational environment: As summer temperatures soar in Gaza, tension and uncertainly also remain high. The potential delay in the start of the school year for Palestine refugee children in the region has contributed to the protests and sit-ins reported this week, including in front of UNRWA installations. These immediate concerns of refugee families in Gaza add to the burden of poverty and unemployment already experienced by too many as a result of the ongoing Israeli-imposed blockade and displacement due to the cycles of violence.
On 6 August, an unexploded ordinance (UXO) detonated in a house in Shabura area. Four people were killed and 50 others sustained injuries. Palestinian workers found a UXO inside a house allegedly targeted during last summer’s conflict. Also during the reporting week, unknown persons allegedly detonated two IEDs in front of a lawyer’s house in Gaza City, with no injuries reported.
During the reporting week, a Palestinian reportedly killed his 35 years old sister in her house in Al Zawaida area. The police are investigating the case.
On 3 August, a 38 year-old male died after he fell from the fourth floor of his house in Jabalia area, in Gaza’s north, allegedly while trying to escape from the Police who had come to arrest him due to financial issues.
During the reporting week, demonstrations were held in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails or in solidarity with journalists killed during the 2014 summer hostilities. On 8 August, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory, circulated a Joint UN statement regarding the Israeli law adopted on July 30 allowing the force-feeding of detainees and prisoners on hunger strikes in Israeli prisons. The statement highlighted the law as “a cause for concern to thosewho work to protect the right to health of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory.” The statement was signed by representatives of OCHA, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Health Organization.
After protests last week regarding the burning of a Palestinian toddler near Nablus in the West Bank on 31 July, the incident continued to make headlineswith the death of the child’s severely burned father. The incident had been widely condemned internationally, including by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) or the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov.
HEALTHY LIVING AT ANY AGE, THROUGH THE UNRWA “FOR YOU GRANDMA” SESSIONS
Um Mohammed carefully pays attention to the physiotherapist advice during an UNRWA healthy life
awareness session, August 2015. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam
More than 35 elderly females gathered at the open yard of Al Daraj Women’s Programme Centre (WPC), where they were focused on the instructions and advice of a physiotherapist during an awareness session on healthy life practices.
This session was one of two in the first of a three-day initiative that will involve 50 elderly females from areas east of Gaza City, including Sabra, Tufah, Shujaya and Zaitoun. The initiative called “for you grandma” was a combined coordination of Elderly Programme Officers and UNRWA Community Development Social Workers (CDSW) at the Agency’s Relief and Social Services Programme (RSSP), and was held in coordination with the WPC.
“The aim of this initiative is to make sure that elderly people are involved in activities that guarantee their social participation and integration; our three days’ work will target them from health, psychological and recreational perspectives” commented Wafa Yunis, a Community Development Social Worker at Gaza East RSSP office, who was one of the coordinators of the initiative.
“Elderly women used to come to the WPC on daily basis, even when there were no activities, they came here to meet and talk to each other; it’s an outlet for relief where they share their stories, experiences and the harshness of life,” Wafa added.
Partner organizations are also involved in the initiative, including Baituna association, who provided the physiotherapist session and taught participants exercises to help alleviate back pain many of the women were experiencing.
Um Mohammed, a 52 year old mother of seven from Tufah area, was pleased to participate in the sessions at WPC. “When your children have their own lives, your role becomes a secondary one, therefore, coming to the Women’s Programme Centre is something that keeps me occupied; here I attend awareness sessions, I meet with other women, it’s where I feel that I have something to add,” she said.
“I used to come to the old centre 20 years ago, and I am still adherent; I like to attend the awareness sessions and join the different activities and mostly the recreational trips, where we can sing, and laugh,” Um Mahmoud added.
SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS
Israeli forces fired towards Palestinians near the security fence or towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis.
On 3 August, two Palestinian merchants were arrested by the Israeli Forces at Erez Crossing.
On 3 August, militants fired two rockets towards Israel. The rockets dropped short and landed in Gaza areas. No injuries or damage were reported. On 4 August, four bulldozers entered approximately 100 metres into Gaza, east of Al Qarara area. The Israeli troops conducted a leveling and excavation operation along the security fence before withdrawing.
On 6 August, militants fired one rocket on 6 August from the middle area towards Israel. The rocket dropped short and landed inside Gaza areas near the eastern security fence. No injuries or damage were reported.
On 7 August, Israeli Forces positioned at the security fence opened fire towards Palestinian areas. A 14-year old Palestinian male was injured. Also on 7 August, Israeli aircraft fired one missile, reportedly targeting a Hamas training site west of Al Bureij Camp. Four injuries were reported. On the same day, militants fired one test rocket from Al Zawaida area towards the sea. Militants also fired one rocket from east of Al Maghazi Camp towards Israel. The rocket landed in an open area north of Kisuffim in Eshkol Regional Council. No injuries were reported.
On 9 August, militants fired one rocket from Al Mughraqah area towards Israel. The rocket dropped short southwest of Gaza City. No injuries were reported.
UNRWA is facing its most serious financial crisis ever: currently, UNRWA has a funding shortfall for core activities - such as schools for half a million children - of US$ 101 million. Without further contributions, the Agency would only be able to continue to fund its core activities into September 2015. With unprecedented needs faced by the Palestine refugees, contributions are falling short of the need for services. In response, the Agency is currently exploring options for additional funding, but is also implementing a series of austerity measures aimed at decreasing costs where possible while preserving essential services to refugees.
US$ 227 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$ 493 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.
• The Rafah Crossing remained closed from 4-11 August.
• The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 4-6 August and from 9-11 August. On 7 August, Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 8 August.
• Kerem Shalom was open from 4-6 and 9-11 August. It was closed on 7 and 8 August.