UNRWA Thursday highlighted its recently-commenced $40-million camp improvement pilot project aimed at improving ‘the quality of life for Palestinian refugees in Deir El Balah camp.
“We recognize these are very tough days for all Palestine refugees, which is why projects such as this one offer a glimmer of hope and a chance to look to the future,” commented Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza Robert Turner on the vitality of the project for the refugees.
“As with all of Gaza, we don’t yet know the details of what that future looks like in Deir El Balah. But we do know that standards of living and socioeconomic development cannot be separated from the living conditions of Palestine refugees – the quality of a camp’s physical environment has a direct bearing on the quality of everyday life,” he added.
Commenting on the lack of progress on Gaza reconstruction, the UN agency said that almost eight months after the announcement of the ceasefire, not a single totally destroyed home has been rebuilt in Gaza.
It affirmed that it didn’t receive any additional funds and had no resources available to issue additional repair payments in this reporting week.
“Due to the Agency’s lack of funding, 685 families still haven’t received the transitional rental subsidy for the period from September to December 2014; 9,000 refugee families are waiting for the first quarter of 2015 payment and 7,400 families have not received their $500 reintegration grant. Over 62,500 families are awaiting assistance to commence with minor repairs to their damaged shelter,” UNRWA reported.
As part of its efforts to address the situation, UNRWA reported that as of 20 April 2015, its engineers have completed the technical assessment of 143,094 houses as part of its efforts to determine assistance eligibility.
It also reported that to date 9,161 Palestine refugee houses have been considered totally destroyed and 5,066 have suffered severe, 4,085 major and 124,782 minor damages.
Highlighting the efforts of reconstruction funding distribution, the agency reported that to date it has only received funding to reconstruct 200 of the 9,161 houses totally destroyed, that over the damaged houses of 60,000 Palestine refugee families have been completely repaired and that approximately 11,500 families whose homes were totally or severely destroyed have received a one-time rental subsidy payment.
The UN agency reported that during the onslaught, a total of 548 Palestinian children lost their lives and about 1,000 children were injured – some so badly that they will have to live the rest of their lives with disabilities. Thousands more were displaced.
Acting to provide children with psycho-social support, UNRWA highlighted its Summer Fun Weeks aimed to support refugee children’s psychosocial needs by providing them with a safe and fun place to play and the possibility to develop new friendships. The SFWs include sports activities such as football and basketball as well as popular games like trampolines, slides or sack races. It reported that Turner is scheduled to travel to Berlin in order to brief relevant German Ministries on the situation in Gaza. The report highlighted its Gaza 5K annual awareness and fundraising walk/ run in support of the UN agency’s Community Mental Health Program , as the previous walk in New York raised over US $116,000.
The report reiterated UN agencies’ warning that by 2016 the Gaza aquifer may become unusable and by 2020 damage will be irreversible and Gaza may no longer be a livable place.
Speaking about the insufficient sanitation infrastructure which is linked to the chronic electricity and fuel shortages that in turn result from the ongoing blockade on the enclave, the UN agency reported that between 24 and 32 million gallons of raw or partially treated sewage is released into the sea on a daily basis, annihilating the algae and thus the presence of small fishes as a source of income.
It also reported that thirty per cent of Gaza residents are not connected to a sewage plant and their waste water flows into sewage ponds or private septic tanks, sometimes overflowing Gaza’s roads or seeping into its groundwater. Gaza’s groundwater shows levels of chloride and nitrate well above the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO).
It referred to a WHO 2014 report stating that heavy metals from war remnants contaminate Gaza’s soil and water and lead to possible radiation.
It reiterated that recently appointed United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov was “encouraged” by the Palestinian government’s commitment to assume its rightful responsibilities in Gaza, including the control of the crossings as well as civil service reform and integration.
Maldenov expressed the UN commitment to support the reconstruction of Gaza, called on the acceleration of the entry of construction material and encouraged Israel to fully release the withheld tax revenues, in line with the Protocol on Economic Relations (also known as the Paris Protocol).