23 July 2015
14 July - 21 July 2015/Issue 102
• Last week The Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders visited Gaza on 15 July to get a first-hand impression of the current situation in the Gaza Strip. The delegation visited an UNRWA Health Centre in Rafah, southern Gaza. The Foreign minister met with UNRWA Interim Director of Operations, Christer Nordahl and was briefed by Field Health Programme Chief, Dr. Ghada Al Jadba on the health situation of Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip. The delegation also met with Palestine refugee families in the Health Centre. “UNRWA has made great efforts for decades now to promote stability in Gaza. It is today the main provider of public services like education and health care. Its work is of enormous importance,” the Foreign Ministerstated after his visit. He also expressed his concern for the serious financial difficulties UNRWA is facing and said that for this reason the Netherlands had provided the annual 2015 contribution of EUR 13 million (approximately US$ 14 million) ahead of time. UNRWA is currently facing the most serious financial crisis since its establishment.
• The first round of initial community consultations has been completed under the Deir el Balah Camp Improvement Project. For this first phase of the pilot project, nine focus groups were established to discuss camp improvement priorities in a community-based participatory approach. The focus groups were composed of a variety of community members including male and female youth, children, fishermen, working men and women, elderly men, housewives or refugees with special needs. The meetings had started on 31 May and after 28 rounds including more than 270 participants they have now been completed. Another pivotal consultation mechanism for this project is a survey to collect and compile data of the camp residents; trained UNRWA surveyors are currently completing this survey to contribute to identify needs in the camp. Both the results of the focus group meetings and the results of the survey will be shared with community leaders and urban planners to identify views and planning options. The approach adopted for this project is a significant move towards best practice of community consultative planning. The importance of community consultation was also highlighted this week in a recent report entitled “Refugee Innovation: Humanitarian Innovation that starts with Communities”, published by the UK-based Refugees Studies Centre of the University of Oxford. The report showcases several examples of creative, resourceful and effective problem-solving ‘bottom-up innovations’ by refugee populations themselves to improve their standard of living in difficult circumstances. The US$ 40 million camp improvement pilot project is supported by the Programme of the Gulf Cooperation Council for the Reconstruction of Gaza through the Islamic Development Bank.
• The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released its June monthly update on the operational status of Gaza crossings. The blockade on Gaza and the related restriction of movement of goods and persons continues to severely undermine the living conditions of the population of Gaza. It is the main reason for the current world high unemployment rates which result in widespread poverty and aid dependency. Goods enter Gaza through Kerem Shalom (southern Israel) and Rafah (Sinai, Egypt), yet the sole export point for Gaza products is through Kerem Shalom. The movement of persons is channeled either through Erez or Rafah crossing but also subject to severe restriction. Since 24 October 2014 the Rafah Crossing in southern Gaza has been closed for all but 25 days as a result of tensions in the Sinai. In June the Rafah crossing was opened for 10 days, allowing the highest number of people entering and exiting Gaza since October 2014. During these ten days 487 truckloads of construction material were also recorded as entering from Egypt into Gaza. However, there are still at least 30,000 people, often medical cases, who have registered to cross through Rafah but who have not been able to due to irregular opening. The OCHA monthly update furthermore states that crossings through Erez have more than doubled since the beginning of the year. Erez crossing gives access only to permit holders (medical and other humanitarian cases), merchants or aid workers and permits are issued by Israeli authorities. Kerem Shalom was open during 21 days in the month of June 2015. While in 2005, prior to the blockade, a monthly average of 777 truckloads exited Gaza through Kerem Shalom, the number decreased to a monthly average of 2 in 2009. Since the beginning of 2015 the number has started to slightly increase and in June 113 trucks exited Gaza, 34 of them to the West Bank, 31 to the Israeli market and 48 to international markets.
• Shelter update
• Due to lack of funding, to date 51,039 families still have not received the first tranche for repair works of their shelter and 7,698 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. In addition, 20 families have not received their rental subsidy payment to cover the period from September to December 2014 and 1,297 families have not received their US$ 500 reintegration grant to replace lost household goods.
• To date, UNRWA engineers have confirmed 139,817 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during last summer’s conflict, 9,117 of them are considered totally demolished. In addition, 5,000 shelters have suffered severe, 3,700 major and 122,000 minor, damages.
Operational environment: In Gaza, regular electricity and water shortages are part of the daily grind and are one of many difficulties the population has no choice but to cope with. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), only 45 per cent of the electricity demand in Gaza is met. Rolling 12 to 16 hour blackouts per day are heavily impacting private businesses, private households or health facilities alike; in addition, due to fuel shortages more than 70 per cent of households are being supplied with piped water for 6-8 hours only every 2 to 4 days. Gaza’s fuel crisis reportedly started with an Israeli airstrike in 2006, targeting the Gaza Power Plant and is reinforced by disputes between Palestinian factions over the funding of fuel, the restricted import of spare parts for water and electricity infrastructure and the fact that over 70 per cent of households do not pay electricity bills due to their economic inability to meet the costs.
During the reporting week several incidents of inter-familial or inter-communal violence were reported. On 14 July, a dispute between two families reportedly led to one death in Nuseirat, central Gaza. On 19 July, a dispute in Gaza city reportedly led to an exchange of fire that killed one woman. Over the past several weeks repeated suicide attempts have also been reported. This week, on 19 July, a 36-year old Palestinian from the Khan Younis area reportedly committed suicide by hanging himself.
A series of car bombings hit the Gaza Strip on 19 July, when five cars were blown up in Gaza city. No injuries were reported. The incident has been widely discussed in the media stating that cars belonging to members of the Hamas movement and Islamic Jihad had been targeted. No group has claimed responsibility, but news outlets suspect the bombings to be the work of Islamic State supporters.
During the week also regular protests by different factions took place in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Eleven young men between 16 and 22 have gathered around a long wooden table in the UNRWA Camp Improvement Project office in Deir El Balah, central Gaza. They listen carefully to the project team staff who are giving a short introduction on the aim of the project itself and the community participatory approach used for its implementation. The community approach includes focus group meetings, surveys, consultations and online tools to enable camp residents to set priorities how best the living conditions in their camp can be improved.
The young men sitting at the table belong to one of nine focus groups in total to discuss camp improvement priorities. Other groups represent children, female youth, working women, working men, fishermen, people with special needs, elderly men and housewives “It is very important for us to participate in this meeting. UNRWA needs to hear the voice of the community because they know best what their own needs are,” commented one young man who eagerly participated in the group discussions.
After an individual five minutes brainstorming session, the participants engaged in a lively debate about the needs, requirements and priorities for the camp improvement project. Green areas, new health centres, wider streets, larger schools, better water quality and regular electricity provision were all among the urgencies raised by the male youth.
“We need to get rid of the noise. The houses are too close to each other; as youth, we have no chance to relax, think and plan our future,” commented one participant advocating for street expansion. “True, not even the children can play in these narrow streets,” another participant added in support.
A third focus group member argued for awareness-raising sessions to be included in any infrastructural change, “we need to address the basis of the problem and work with the people to avoid the camp from being deteriorated again after it has been improved.”
UNRWA shares the results of the focus group meetings as well as the survey and other outreach tools with community leaders and UNRWA urban planners who will attempt to translate them into financially and technically feasible project components that represent the community consensus. The physical construction of the camp improvement project will begin next year.
The three year US$ 40 million initiative is generously funded by the Programme of the Gulf Cooperation Council for the Reconstruction of Gaza through the Islamic Development Bank.
SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS
Israeli forces fired towards Palestinians near the security fence or towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 17 July, Israeli forces reportedly injured a 14-year old Palestinian in the Khan Younis area.
On 16 July, militants fired one rocket towards Israel from northern Gaza; the rocket exploded in an open area in southern Israel and no injuries or damage was reported. At the same day, Israeli forces fired three missiles reportedly targeting military training sites in northern and central Gaza; in central Gaza one women suffered slight injuries.
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$ 220 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency shelter programme, for which a total of US$ 720 million is required. This leaves a current shortfall of US$ 500 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 14 to 21 July.
• The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 14 to 16 July and from 19 to 20 July. On 17 July, Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 18 July.
• Kerem Shalom was open from 14 to 16 July and 19 and 20 July. It was closed on 17 and 18 July.