Due to lack of funds, UNRWA last month was forced to suspend its cash assistance programme supporting repairs and providing rental subsidies to Palestine refugee families in Gaza. According to the initial Agency’s assessment concluded in December, 96,000 Palestine refugee dwellings were damaged or destroyed during last summer’s conflict and more than US$ 720 million is required to address this need.
The Agency extended a one week window between 21-25 December 2014, for those refugee families who were not visited by a social worker but who consider themselves eligible to apply for an assessment. It is expected that the number of effected homes – mainly minor damage – will rise to over 100,000 when the extended assessment process concludes in March 2015. Donors have been generous, but it is not nearly enough – UNRWA has received only US$ 135 million in pledges, leaving a shortfall of US$ 585 million. UNRWA urgently requires US$ 100 million in the first quarter of 2015 to allow refugee families with minor damage to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies, including to the thousands of families who left UNRWA-run Collective Centres (CCs) and found alternative rental accommodation. UNRWA is concerned that if it cannot continue to provide rental subsidies, large numbers of affected families may return to the CCs.
On 12 February in Ramallah, the Deputy Prime Minister of the State of Palestine, Dr. Mohammad Mustafa, and the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, James Rawley, released the Strategic Response Plan (SRP) for 2015, which aims to address the humanitarian needs of 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. In remarks made at the 2015 SRP launch, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Robert Turner, reiterated the ongoing inability of UNRWA to pay shelter cash assistance to families. He said: "The population of Gaza is exhausted, frustrated and angry. The small remnants of hope for a better future which existed have been extinguished by this last terrible war and the political paralysis that exists. Palestinians remain trapped in Gaza, without any hope for political change which would bring about a lifting of the blockade. More than ever the people of Gaza, including the young and educated, just want to leave a context they believe will never provide an opportunity for a decent life, as we’ve seen from the numbers of people willing to risk their lives by illegally migrating, something unseen on this scale before. Within this context, the international community is failing to provide the people of Gaza with the bare minimum. Cash assistance, that would allow families who lost everything to rent a place to live, or to repair their own home, has been suspended. Thousands of families are waiting, but we – UNRWA and UNDP - have no money. If we cannot restart the provision of rental subsidies, people, including those who left our collective centres and found alternative accommodation, may be forced to return to those centres. Our inability to pay also undermines the trust of the community we enjoy, puts our staff – including social workers and engineers – at risk, and our entire operation in Gaza. " His remarks also recognized that this year’s SRP is designed to address different layers of humanitarian need in Gaza, layers created by repeated conflicts and the tragic de-development of a middle-income economy brought on by the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza, now in its eighth year. "That the international community continues to be asked year by year to fill humanitarian gaps in the absence of the relevant responsible groups is a failure. The real tragedy is that this lack of hope is entirely the result of policy decisions taken by politicians in Israel, and also in Palestine.