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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
31 October 2006




Executive Summary

Nearly three-quarters of a million Palestinians lost their homes and livelihoods in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The responsibility for addressing the many pressing needs of these refugees, initially adopted by international and local voluntary organizations, was handed over to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) following its establishment by the United Nations General Assembly on December 8, 1949. UNRWA initiated its operations in May 1950, primarily as a relief agency and remains, half a century later, the largest and oldest organization providing continuous basic services to Palestine refugees. At present, the agency provides education, health, relief and social services, as well as income generation assistance through micro-credit and micro-enterprise programmes and vocational training, to more than 4.3 million registered Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Syrian Arab Republic, Lebanon, and Jordan.

The Agency’s Special Hardship Case (SHC) programme, the focus of the current survey, was introduced in 1978 to provide a cushion of support to the neediest families among the refugee population in the five fields of UNRWA operations. Upon implementation, the SHC Programme increased the amount of assistance to needy families, compared to that received by other refugees. In 1982, the mass distribution of food rations to the majority of refugees was abolished, and thus the SHC programme remained the main programme that provides food rations to the neediest refugees.

This report examines the socio-economic conditions of SHC families in the five fields of UNRWA operations along all major socio-economic dimensions. It builds on the results of the SHC survey, which offers an overview of the living conditions of the SHC population, as derived through interviews with a representative sample of 3603 SHC families (14,598 individuals) in the five fields. One of the main objectives of the survey was to provide data relevant to a range of policy concerns associated with reforming the SHC programme from the current status-based approach to a needs-based approach. A second objective was to undertake an in-depth policy-relevant analysis of the socio-economic conditions of SHC families, which will serve as a baseline for studying subsequent changes in the patterns of living conditions, particularly after reforming the Programme.

To date, the SHC survey represents the first comprehensive attempt by the Agency to describe the socio-economic conditions of SHC families in the five fields of UNRWA operations. The SHC population discussed here depend to a large extent on assistance from UNRWA’s SHC programme to support their families. The majority of them are in economic distress and live in precarious living conditions, as revealed by the results of the survey. For easy reference and summary on the main findings of the survey, the conclusion (chapter ten) includes a tabular overview of most basic social and economic indicators.

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