• On 9 and 10 September 2015, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl visited the Gaza Strip to reach out to UNRWA staff members, the Palestine refugee community, local media and the Gaza civil society. Hence, after meeting with UNRWA management and the UNRWA Local Staff Union (LSU), Mr. Krähenbühl engaged with UNRWA staff members in a town hall forum to discuss and answer questions regarding future UNRWA operations and the financial crisis. The Commissioner General also gave a press conference and answered questions from the media; he also gave an exclusive interview to UNRWA TV. The Commissioner-General reached out to the community, meeting with several civil society and human rights organizations and visiting an UNRWA school in Gaza City, where he engaged with students and teachers alike. Whilst in Gaza, Mr. Krähenbühl also met briefly with a delegation from the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD).
• Despite a very busy agenda, Mr. Krähenbühl took the time to be with the seven child actors of the SOS-film “Message in a Bottle”, produced by UNRWA TV in June 2015. Together with the children and their parents, on 9 September the Commissioner-General enjoyed viewing the film at the UNRWA Gaza Field Office. The film is part of a larger campaign using the hashtag #SOS4Gaza which has reached about 5.5 million people across 4 continents. The film and related videos have been viewed more than a million times. Through this campaign, which concludes at the end of September, the Agency has so far been able to raise US$ 3.3 million for the education of Gaza’s children. The Commissioner-General presented each of the participating refugee children with a certificate of appreciation and a copy of the film.
• Mr. Bo Schack, who assumed his role as Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza at the beginning of the month, visited Rafah in southern Gaza on 12 September, marking his first official field visit in the Gaza Strip. During his visit, he met with senior UNRWA Area Office staff, including the Chief of Area Office, Dr. Yousef Mousa. Mr. Schack visited several UNRWA schools, including one where he met with the students' parliament and the human rights teachers listening to their views and opinions regarding class formation and the quality of education in Gaza. Mr. Schack also visited the UNRWA Tal Sultan Health Centre, where he was briefed on the Family Health Team and e-health approaches by senior medical and area health officers. He visited the Rafah Rehousing Project and met with the project manager on the progress of the third and last construction phase.
• "I am very impressed by the dedication and motivation shown by UNRWA staff in the very complex and challenging circumstances. In the same manner, the enthusiasm and insistence on wanting to learn and be educated I hear in the comments and see in the smiles of the students are so strong and make one feel very humble. I look forward to continuing to meet with staff and members of the community, listening to the voices of the people we serve and advocating on their behalf," said Mr. Schack during the visit. The Director's trip to Rafah was part of a larger outreach programme that involves "first visits" to all five areas in Gaza. On 14 September, Mr. Schack travelled to the North Area where he received a briefing by key UNRWA staff members, including Chief of Area Office, Mr. Khalil Al Halabi, and then proceeded to visit the UNRWA Al Saftawi Health Centre as well as an UNRWA flood prevention project in Beit El Na'ja area. Mr Schack also visited Beit Hanoun, one of the most visibly destroyed areas in Gaza.
• Shelter update
Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, the Agency has distributed over US$ 127.3 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or demolished during the 2014 summer conflict. As of 17 September 2015, UNRWA has completed the payments to over 66,300 Palestine refugee families – more than half of the caseload – for minor repair works, to 547 families to repair their severely damaged shelters and to 7 families for major repair works. Payment transfers for over 11,800 refugee families to continue repair works of their shelters and for 135 families to continue the reconstruction of their shelters are ongoing.
Over 12,500 families have received a rental subsidy payment to cover the period from September to December 2014. Disbursement of subsequent installments entailed further eligibility checks through which over 9,000 families have received the relevant rental subsidy payments during the period from January to August 2015.
Due to lack of sufficient funding, to date, over 47,000 refugee families have not received the first tranche for repair works of their shelter. 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 assistance to these families. Also, due to lack of funding thousands of refugee families were not yet able to start the reconstruction of their totally demolished home.
To date, UNRWA engineers have confirmed 140,190 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during the 2014 conflict; 9,117 of them are considered totally demolished. 5,252 shelters have suffered severe, 3,700 major and 122,121 minor, damages.
• Although heat and sunshine are currently the prevailing weather conditions in Gaza, the rainy months are not far away and they almost annually create heavy floods in the streets of Gaza. For this reason, the UNRWA Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP) is implementing ten infrastructure projects across the eight refugee camps to reduce storm water flooding. Through the projects, storm water will be mostly collected and channeled towards the existing agricultural areas, infiltration pools or percolation pits with piles to reduce the pollution of ground water, and to recharge the ground water aquifer by reducing the concentration of salts in it. Safeguarding the Gaza aquifer is very important as it is at the point of collapsing. According to ICIP, based on geographical boundaries, Gaza should receive 55 million cubic metres (MCM) of water annually and current rates of pumping are estimated to be above 180 MCM which impedes the recharging of the aquifer. The constantly rising over-abstraction of the groundwater – due to inadequately available water imports and the drilling of unlicensed wells for irrigation or due to population expansion – have resulted in 95 per cent of the groundwater being unsafe for drinking, according to a July 2015 report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
• On 9 September, the Deputy Head of the Netherlands Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Ms Henny de Vreis, together with First Secretary Annemieke van Solen, visited the UNRWA Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Impaired (RCVI) in Gaza City to hand over a donation from the Dutch staff in Ramallah of NIS 10,000 (approximately US$ 2,500) to support different activities that will enrich the learning process inside the Centre and help the pupils to integrate into society. The Dutch donation was received during a small ceremony organized by RCVI staff. One of the highlights of the ceremony was a karate show performed by visually impaired students. The RCVI supports such sports activities to enhance the pupils’ self-confidence. For the school year 2015/2016, 124 students are enrolled at the RCVI. The RCVI is part of UNRWA’s Relief and Social Services Programme, which promotes the development and self-reliance of less-advantaged members of the Palestine refugee community – especially women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly.
• Gaza’s socio-economic indicators are at their lowest level since 1967, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The direct losses resulting from the three military conflicts in 2008-2014 are equal to what could be produced in three years by the Gaza population. Furthermore, in quarter two of 2015, overall unemployment stood at 41.5 per cent and the refugee unemployment rate at 42.3 per cent. The worst affected are still the refugee youths, with young women suffering from almost 80 per cent and young men from almost 62 per cent unemployment. The dire prospects for finding a job and making a living are aggravated by high levels of food insecurity as a result of high food prices. In August, according to UNRWA internal updates, food prices remained volatile and increased by three per cent compared to July, driven by rising vegetables’ prices due to high temperatures.
• Approximately 50 young talented Gazan artists have painted a 100 metre-long mural under the theme “youth civic engagement” at the northern wall of the UNRWA compound in Gaza city. The mural which is painted on canvas hung up on the wall attempts to break a new record as largest mural in Palestine. “We paint for the people of Gaza,” commented artist Mohammad Likruns on his motivation to participate in the drawing. “In Gaza, we still did not wake up from the nightmare of the past three conflicts. In Gaza, we need life. With this mural, we are painting for hope and life,” added journalist Nael Khader, who decided to volunteer in the activity. The mural painting activity was organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) under the UN Theme Group on Young People, of which UNRWA is also an active member. The mural has been implemented in partnership with the General Union for Cultural Centres in Gaza. With the “youth civic engagement” theme UN institutions seek to promote and raise awareness for more political, social and economic participation for youth so they will be empowered and bring full contributions to society, development and peace. The mural will hang for approximately one week on the UNRWA wall and afterwards the painting may be used for exhibitions in Gaza and the West Bank and some sections may be donated to UNRWA schools in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Operational environment: While temperatures in Gaza remained in the mid to high thirties and humidity averaged 80 per cent, the Gaza Power Plant has had to halt one of its power generators and change Gaza’s electricity schedule to six hours on, 12 hours off, due to lack of fuel. The power cuts coincide with failing Egyptian electricity lines in southern Gaza, worsening the electricity crisis, as per media reports. Several protests took place during the reporting week against electricity cuts. On 13 September, a building in Gaza City sustained severe damage due to an electricity malfunction problem. Ten injuries were reported.
Several incidents of political and inter-communal violence were reported this week. On 8 September, clashes erupted between supporters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian politician Mohammad Dahlan at a conference in northern Gaza. On 12 September, a dispute erupted between students from Hamas and Fatah in the Al Quds University branch in central Gaza. No injuries were reported in either case. On 13 September, a family dispute in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, resulted in three injuries due to the use of edged weapons. Several persons were arrested by the police. On 14 September, clashes erupted between members of the Hamas movement and the management of Al Quds Open University in Rafah southern Gaza, demanding to support students in their tuition fees. The police arrested some of the students.
On 9 September, a Palestinian youth was injured when mishandling an Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) in Gaza City. On 11 September, unknown persons detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Gaza City.
On 8 September, Israeli forces arrested a Palestinian patient at Erez crossing when he was passing the crossing for medical treatment. On the same day, Israeli troops arrested a Palestinian who had tried to cross into Israel from central Gaza. One day later, Israeli troops arrested three more Palestinians who had also tried to cross into Israel from the same location. On 13 September, Israeli troops arrested two Palestinians who tried to cross into Israel from northern Gaza. On 15 September Israeli forces injured a member of the National Security forces in Gaza when they tried to prevent a Palestinian from entering into Israel from central Gaza.
On 9 September, members of the UNRWA Local Staff Union and representatives of national and Islamic factions held a press conference in front of the UNRWA Gaza Field Office to announce their support for the decision of UNRWA management regarding the new class formation. On 13 September, families from Rafah, southern Gaza, held a sit-in in front of the UNRWA Gaza Field Office demanding the change in residences they had been provided by UNRWA.
MANAGING DIABETES AT UNRWA HEALTH CENTRES: “PEOPLE NEED SOMEONE THEY TRUST”
Nurse Khadra Abu Oweida with one of her diabetes patients at the UNRWA Health Centre in Gaza city. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan
“Patients who suffer from diabetes need first of all someone who listens to them and their pain; they need someone they trust so they feel comfortable to talk. This was the main reason why I have stayed in my position for so long,” Khadra explained. “I have a very strong relationship with my patients and they take my advice seriously,” she added proudly.
Diabetes rates in the Gaza Strip are high and a direct result of the disruption to economic and social activity. The Gaza Strip is a war-ravaged, poverty-stricken coastal enclave where malnutrition and infectious diseases can co-exist with non-communicable health conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Forced urbanization, over-crowding and the related psycho-social stress can aggravate these diseases. According to the UNRWA Gaza Health Programme, in 2014 approximately 12 per cent of Palestine refugees aged 40 years or more were suffering from diabetes mellitus. In total the UNRWA Gaza Health Programme reported 28,022 male and 43.411 female Palestine refugee diabetes patients in 2014.
Khadra confirms that diabetes particularly affects women: “Women are exposed to so many tensions in our society, and as a result they often start to suffer from weight gain which is further increased by a lack of exercise.”
However, according to Khadra over the years the knowledge and awareness of the people of Gaza about diabetes has increased and their behaviour is changing.
“They know the danger diabetes can pose, and they are aware of the importance of taking medications and living a healthier lifestyle,” Khadra said. “I would say up to 70 per cent of the diabetes patients in the Rimal Health Centre are now controlling the disease and have changed their lifestyles and habits,” she added.
To further address diabetes rates among Palestine refugee communities in Gaza, UNRWA has partnered with the not-for-profit development organization Microclinic International (MCI) to build the capacity of UNRWA’s medical staff through the Microclinic Programme for Diabetes Prevention and Management. This programme aims at involving communities to choose and sustain healthy lifestyle changes to prevent or manage diabetes. Twice per week between 10 August and 22 September, UNRWA is training its nursing staff on the prevention of diabetes so they are equipped to train and pass their knowledge to patients and the patients’ support network such as families and friends. In total, 216 medical staff from 18 Health Centres will participate in this training to further acquire needed information and skills.
SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS
Israeli forces fired towards Palestinians near the security fence or towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis.
No other major security incidents were reported during the reporting week.
Thanks to generous donors, UNRWA has overcome its immediate and most serious financial crisis and was able to partially bridge the US$ 101 million deficit in its General Fund; to date, a shortfall of US$ 20 million remains.
In response to the unprecedented needs faced by Palestine refugees, and the continuous financial shortages and unstable financial footing of the Agency, UNRWA is currently exploring options for additional funding, but is also continuing 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 US$ 366.6 million for its 2015 emergency operations in Gaza, including US$ 127 million for emergency shelter, repair and collective centre management, US$ 105.6 million for emergency food assistance, and US$ 68.6 million for emergency cash-for-work.
More information can be found here.
• The Rafah Crossing was open from 8 to 9 September in one direction for Palestinian pilgrims. It was closed from 10 to 14 September.
• The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 8 to 10 and on 13 September. On 11 September, Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 12, 14 and 15 September due to Israeli holidays.
• Kerem Shalom was open from 8 to 9 September. It was closed from 10 to 15 September.