Israel launched a three-week offensive in Gaza in December 2008 with the stated aim of ending rocket attacks by Hamas and other groups. At least 1,300 Palestinians were killed and some 5,300 were injured in the heavy bombardment and fighting in densely populated areas, which reduced homes, schools, hospitals and marketplaces to rubble.
“The effects of the war still persist today and the humanitarian needs of the women, men and children of Gaza remain widespread and acute,” said Margot Ellis, Deputy Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
“The effects of the war still persist today and the humanitarian needs of the women, men and children of Gaza remain widespread and acute.”
**Food Security, Refugees…**
The UN appeal, which was launched on 17 Jan., focuses on three strategic priorities – food security, protection and emergency response capability. Eighty per cent of the requested funds will be used to promote food security through food assistance, cash assistance and job creation programmes.
A sizeable portion of the appeal also aims to protect the rights of refugees and improve their access to basic emergency health, water, sanitation, education, and temporary shelter.
Speaking at the Agency’s headquarters in Gaza, Ellis told reporters that “despite an easing of access, Gaza remains under a blockade and its population subject to collective punishment, an act illegal under international law.”
Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza for what it called security reasons. Despite the ongoing blockade, UNRWA has continued its reconstruction efforts, the Agency stated in a news release. Out of a $667 million reconstruction plan, UNRWA has been able to complete 22 projects worth some $22.5 million and is presently working on implementation of further projects worth some $115 million.
**Schools and Homes**
UNRWA noted that while this is a sizeable amount and reflects good progress, dozens more schools and thousands of homes still need to be built. It welcomed the steps made by the Israeli authorities in approving projects, while stressing the need to step up the pace of reconstruction.
“Three years on, UNRWA calls on the international community to work with the relevant parties to ease further the restrictions, give swifter approval for more projects and put an end to the blockade,” it stated.
The Agency added that the continuing blockade and the restrictions on exports have far reaching consequences which increase poverty and aid dependency and the demand for UNRWA’s emergency services.
A quarter of the UNRWA appeal is for the West Bank, where, according to Ellis, “forced displacements, settlement expansion, and settler violence are taking a devastating toll on the communities UNRWA serves.”
Since the beginning of 2011, nearly 1,100 Palestinians, including 618 children, have been displaced due to demolitions in East Jerusalem and Area C – the over 60 per cent of the West Bank where Israel retains control over security, planning and building – according to UNRWA.
UNRWA provides assistance, protection and advocacy for nearly five million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, pending a solution to their plight.
On 13 Sep. 2011, the UN had renewed its appeal to donors to provide $36 million in urgently-needed funds to support emergency assistance to Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.
“Our emergency programmes in Gaza face a critical funding situation,” said Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA.
“We call on our donors and other stakeholders to respond to this appeal as an urgent priority.”
The $36 million were needed for programmes related to temporary employment, food assistance, school feeding, and community mental health, according to UNRWA, which is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member States.
These programmes were separate from the agency’s regular education, health and relief activities, and are specifically tailored to address the most urgent humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable refugees in Gaza.
“UNRWA fears that without a substantial injection of cash towards its emergency work in Gaza, food rations to hundreds of thousands of refugees, including children in UN schools, may be reduced in the coming months and community health programmes will be threatened, including psycho-social support to 25,000 children,” said Gunness.
The renewed appeal for funds from UNRWA came last September as the blockade imposed by Israel against Gaza since 2007, when Hamas ousted the Fatah movement in the territory, remains in place, despite repeated calls by the UN and other members of the international community.
**High Poverty Levels Impacting 38% of Gazans**
A report issued in August last year by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) found that a modest relaxation of the blockade in 2010 resulted in some improvement in economic activity in Gaza, though “humanitarian conditions are still dire.” It noted that poverty levels in Gaza are as high as 38 per cent.
“It is an unfortunate reality that until the blockade is lifted in full, allowing Gaza’s economy to recover, there will continue to be a need for international humanitarian assistance to support the people of Gaza,” Gunness stated.
**Record Highs in Unemployment Among Palestinian Refugees**
Meanwhile, unemployment among Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank is now at 27.4 per cent, according to a UN report.
The report, which was released by UNRWA, found that the number of unemployed refugees in the West Bank grew by nearly one per cent in the first half of 2011, to over 50,000 people.
> ### “These figures show once more that the refugees continue to bear the brunt of economic hardship in the West Bank, making the need for our emergency services greater than ever”
-Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesperson.
The report, which was released on December 12, found that refugees lost ground in the public sector, where their employment declined 2.9 per cent, and noted that total refugee employment growth, fixed at 1.5 per cent, was “well below” the overall rate of job growth for non-refugees in the West Bank.
The West Bank study mirrors a similar UNRWA report analysing joblessness among refugees in the Gaza Strip.
Marking a trend affecting refugees throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, the Gaza employment report also found that refugee participation in the Gaza labour market had declined despite overall growth in the construction industry and a surge in private employment.
**Up to 33.8 Per Cent**
In fact, the UN had reported on December 7 that the rate of unemployment among refugees registered with the United Nations in the Gaza Strip in the occupied Palestinian territory stands at 33.8 per cent, indicating that their participation in the labour market has declined despite growth in the construction industry.
The UNRWA report, which is based on a comparison of macro-economic indicators in Gaza for the first half with those the similar period in 2010 found that there were 1,430 more refugees employed in the public sector and about 18,670 in the private sector, a net gain of about 20,100 jobs.
Refugees accounted for less than 20 per cent of workers taking up new jobs in the public sector and about 55 per cent in the private sector.
The rise in the number of jobs, however, did not keep up with the robust population growth in Gaza. Refugees accounted for less than 20 per cent of workers taking up new jobs in the public sector and about 55 per cent in the private sector.
Overall refugees account for nearly 62 per cent of Gaza’s labour force.
Source: [www.un.org](http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=40961&Cr=palestin&Cr1=) | 2012 [Human Wrongs Watch](http://human-wrongs-watch.net/)