12 February 2015
3 - 10 February Issue 79
• UNRWA is still in dire need of new funding to allow families to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies, including to the thousands of families who have left UNRWA-run Collective Centres (CCs) and found alternative rental accommodation. A special photo essay depicting life in a CC almost six months after the ceasefire can be viewed at the following link: Life, Loss and Dreams in an UNRWA Collective Centre
• During the reporting period, UNRWA was able to commence issuing Transitional Shelter Cash Assistance (TSCA) to nearly 800 affected families. US $1.1 million in funding became available for TSCA and affected families will access their payments through local banks this week. Shelter cash assistance is a top priority for UNRWA. The Agency remains committed to supporting affected families, yet requires new funding to resume the self-help emergency shelter assistance. Due to lack of funding, and as warned since the 4th quarter of 2014, UNRWA was forced to suspend its cash assistance programme supporting repairs and providing rental subsidies to Palestine refugee families in Gaza.
• The Agency has submitted details of 65,486 families to the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs, for disbursement of materials through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). As of 10 February, 34,043 refugee families have been published on the Ministry of Public Works website and have access to construction materials. It is understood that 99 per cent of UNRWA beneficiaries who purchased partial or full amounts of construction materials via the GRM have received the first instalment.
• The 51st Munich Security Conference (MSC) was held from 6 to 8 February 2015. The Conference is an annual event focused on international security policy and has been taking place since 1963. It is the world's largest gathering of its kind and has become the most important independent forum for the exchange of views by international security policy decision-makers. Each year it attracts approximately 350 senior figures from more than 70 countries. In addition to the traditional annual conference in Munich, the MSC has developed smaller formats, including, in particular, MSC Core Group Meetings and Cyber Security Summits, to discuss key challenges in international security policy in different capitals around the world. The EU’s deep political and economic partnership with Israel, and its role as the foremost donor to the Palestinian Authority and UNWRA were mentioned in the speech of High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini, as she spoke at the MSC about the current turbulence in the Middle East and the importance of finding ways to bring the Region “back on track” regarding the Peace Process.
• UNRWA’s Microfinance Department (MD) continues to impact positively on Gaza’s devastated economy. The department’s programme aims at improving the quality of life of small business owners, micro-entrepreneurs and poor households through the provision of credit and other financial services that sustain jobs, decrease unemployment, reduce poverty, and provide income-generating and asset-building opportunities to Palestine refugees, including women and youth. Over the course of 2014, UNRWA’s microfinance programme disbursed 2,967 loans worth approximately US$ 4,768,590 through its seven credit initiatives. Forty per cent of these were for female entrepreneurs and 13 per cent to clients below the age of 24. Since its establishment in Gaza in 1991, the microfinance programme has disbursed 108,589 loans worth US$ 125.9 million. Training is an important component of the programme and during 2014, 1,153 Palestinians – including business owners, university graduates, and unemployed people who are planning to start a business – attended a total of 58 training courses conducted by UNRWA’s Small and Medium Enterprise Business Training Programme (SMET). UNRWA maintains a commitment to ensuring that all Gazans, no matter their economic status, age or gender, have access to its microfinance initiatives.
• More than 1,000 UNRWA teachers across the Gaza Strip have now successfully completed a specialized Risk Education training on how to teach UNRWA students on the dangers of explosive remnants of war (ERW), left behind from the July/August 2014 hostilities, in efforts to limit further casualties and raise awareness. The Risk Education Training of Teachers (ToT), was designed to equip teachers and deputy principals to deliver knowledge and heightened ERW awareness to students. UNRWA expects some 240,000 children attending the Agency’s schools will be reached through the teachers. Gaza ERW trainees are encouraged to avoid potential hazardous areas, stay away from suspicious items and report ERW they might encounter to the appropriate authorities. In addition to the Risk Education training of teachers, UNRWA’s ERW team has also been working with the Education Department in providing eight animations and dramas on their Interactive Learning Program website (http://ilp.unrwa.ps/), which has already been viewed by 12,816 students/families in the past three months.
• On 5 February, UNRWA laid the cornerstone at the opening of phase three of the Saudi Rehousing Project in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. The event was addressed by Robert Turner, UNRWA Director of Operations, Mufid al-Hasayna Palestinian Minister of Public Works and Housing and Rafiq Abed, UNRWA’s Chief of Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Project. This is UNRWA’s largest refugee rehousing project and phase three will include 220 houses accommodating 1,310 Palestine refugees set for completion March 2016. Since 2012 the US$114 million Kingdom of Saudi Arabia funded project has produced over 1,500 housing units, creating homes for some 10,000 refugees. “The re-housing project is important to UNRWA, to the Gaza Strip and especially to the refugee community in Rafah and all Palestine refugees in Gaza,” said UNRWA Director of Operations, Robert Turner at the launch. “The Agency has stood with the people of Gaza through all difficulties. We stood with you through last summer’s conflict, we stand with you today and we will stand with your tomorrow,” Mr Turner said. Through its three phases the construction project has created more than 160,000 working days in Gaza Strip for some 10,000 labourers.
• UNRWA continues to provide shelter and basic services to almost 10,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in 15 Agency-run Collective Centres (CCs). A total of 25 awareness raising sessions related to environmental health promotion were held in CCs during the reporting period, involving over 500 IDPs who were trained on how to keep their surrounding environment clean. The CC WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) team also organized 15 recreational and support activities related to hygiene practices for 300 children. Cultural committees in Gaza City continued to meet, and held a lunch at Zaitoun Elementary Boys school as a creative English language learning exercise. To help women use their free time and release the stress, embroidery, knitting and crochet training for IDP women started from expert women in this field from the CC itself and from voluntary women from outside the CC; the training is conducted in Zaiton Elem. Boys, Zaiton Prep Girls and Bahrain Prep Boys.
Operational environment: The atmosphere in Gaza remains one of frustration for families who are desperate to rebuild their homes and lives. Demonstrations and sit-ins are common occurrences outside UN and INGO installations, as well as in prominent public areas. Demonstrations and sit-ins over the past week were regarding solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, demands for speedy reconstruction, protests against the Israeli blockade on Gaza Strip and demands to open the Rafah Terminal with Egypt. There were also protests held against the Egyptian court decision to declare Al Qassam Brigades as a banned terrorist group. In an isolated incident on 3 February, it was reported that unidentified persons kidnapped and beat a Palestinian consultant working for the Dutch representative office in Gaza city. The police are investigating the incident. UNRWA remains concerned about the continued unpredictability in political and security environments and the lack of funding it is facing to help refugee families get back on their feet after the summer 2014 conflict.
GROWING UP IN GAZA: LEARNING HOW TO DREAM
For eleven-year old Waed Yasin, a Palestine refugee from the Gaza Strip, life has never been simple. She has witnessed three wars in the past seven years and knows that every portion of food or item of clothing must be shared evenly between her and her nine siblings.
When it comes to school, despite studying hard, Waed knows that she cannot expect her family to provide needed school books or stationery. The worsening economic situation in Gaza has meant the young student cannot even remember when her father last had paid employment, or when her family had an income.
In August last year, Waed’s life was thrown further upside down when her family’s simple home was destroyed as a consequence of the 50-day summer hostilities. Today they are reliant on UNRWA to meet all food, health and education means and have been forced to live with their grandmother in an over-crowded house.
But while Waed must confront hardships on a daily basis, she remains thankful for the opportunities she does have. On Monday, with her wooden school desk at Asma Elem Co-Ed school in Gaza City piled high with shiny new notepads delivered by UNRWA Department of Education as part of its annual stationery assistance, the eager student said she was now able to look forward to working hard at school this semester.
“Receiving stationery is very important for me. Because my father has no income we could not buy school stationery so I was obliged to use used writing pads from last semester before I got UNRWA’s stationery,” she said.
Along with Waed, approximately 240,000 Palestine refugee students attending UNRWA’s schools across the Gaza Strip have received their start-of-semester stationery kit of eight Arabic writing pads, two English writing pads and one drawing pad. All schools were also equipped with new cleaning material, some furniture and office supplies to maximize learning opportunities.
Ensuring that refugee children in Gaza have access to quality schooling and education remain key priorities for the Agency as part of its wider commitment to helping refugees achieve their full potential in human development.
Zahra Abu Olba, Waed’s school principal, said most of her students were from poor families and without UNRWA’s stationery donation most would have gone without. “Parents kept asking for stationery as they cannot afford to buy any,” said Zahra.
Like many children attending UNRWA’s schools in Gaza, Waed has big dreams for her future and already realizes that education will play a key part in helping her achieve them. "I wish we could all live in peace. I want to study hard and become a doctor in the future to treat patients and the poor,” she said.
SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS
During the reporting period, there were a number of incidences of the IDF opening fire towards Palestinians near the fence and at Palestinian boats. On 3 February, Egyptian security forces opened fire towards two Palestinian military posts inside Gaza Strip near the border fence between Gaza and Egypt after a bomb reportedly exploded near Egyptian forces at the border. No injuries were reported. On 5 February, Egyptian patrol boats opened fire towards Palestinian boats approaching Egyptian waters. No injuries were reported. On 7 February, militants in Gaza fired two test rockets towards the sea. On 8 February, two IDF tanks and four bulldozers entered approximately 150 metres south-east of Karni. The troops conducted levelling and excavation operations before withdrawing.
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 between 3 and 9 February.
• Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 3-5 February. On 6 February, Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. The crossing was closed on 7 February and open from 8-9 February.
• Kerem Shalom was open from 3-5 February and between 8 and 9 February. It was closed on 6 and 7 February.