UNRWA to Suspend Gaza Assistance Due to Lack of Funds

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A Palestinian woman reacts at seeing destroyed homes in the northern district of Beit Hanun in the Gaza Strip during an humanitarian truce on July 26, 2013. AFP/Mohammed Abed

Published Tuesday, January 27, 2015

UNRWA has been forced to suspend its cash assistance program for repairs to damaged and destroyed houses in Gaza due to lack of funds, the agency said Monday.

The suspension of the program, which also covers rental subsidies to the homeless in Gaza, will affect the lives of tens of thousands of people who are in dire need for assistance following the Israeli assault on the besieged enclave.

For 51 days this summer, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip — by air, land and sea — with the stated aim of ending rocket fire from the coastal enclave.

The Israeli offensive ended on August 26 with an Egypt-brokered ceasefire deal.

More than 2,310 Gazans, 70 percent of them civilians, were killed and 10,626 injured during unrelenting Israeli attacks on the besieged strip this summer.

The assault also left the densely populated enclave in ruins, displacing more than a quarter of Gaza's population of 1.7 million and leaving 100,000 people, mostly children, homeless.

According to UNRWA, over 96,000 Palestine refugee family homes were damaged or destroyed, including 7,000 homes that were completely lost, during the aggression and the total funding required to address that need is $720 million.

Besides homes, the Israeli strikes targeted 13 public hospitals; 17 private hospitals, including al-Wafa Hospital which was completely destroyed; 23 governmental health centers, four of which were completely destroyed; and four private health centers, including the Khalil al-Wazir Clinic which was completely destroyed.

To date, UNRWA has received only $135 million in pledges, leaving a shortfall of $585 million. While some funds remain available to begin the reconstruction of totally destroyed homes, the agency has exhausted all funding to support repairs and rental subsidies, it said.

“UNRWA in Gaza has so far provided over $77 million to 66,000 Palestine refugee families to repair their home or find a temporary alternative," said UNRWA’s Director in Gaza, Robert Turner.

“This is a tremendous achievement; it is also wholly insufficient. It is easy to look at these numbers and lose sight of the fact that we are talking about thousands of families who continue to suffer through this cold winter with inadequate shelter. People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble, children have died of hypothermia," Turner added.

In October, global donors pledged $5.4 billion in aid to the devastated Gaza Strip.

Gas-rich Qatar led the way with a promise of $1 billion in aid to the coastal enclave.

The European Union member states pledged 450 million euros, while the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait pledged $200 million each.

Other nations joined the effort, with Germany pledging $63 million and Norway about $13 million.

However, according to Turner, “virtually none of it [the $5.4 billion] has reached Gaza. This is distressing and unacceptable.”

UNRWA said it urgently required $100 million in the first quarter of this year to allow families with minor damage to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies, including to the thousands of families that left the UNRWA-run collective centers and found alternative rental accommodation.

The agency expressed deep concern regarding the fate of those who will no longer be able to pay for rent, saying that if UNRWA cannot continue to provide the rental subsidy then large numbers may return to the collective centers, where almost 12,000 displaced Palestinians continue to seek shelter.

“It is unclear why this funding has not been forthcoming,” Turner added, “but UNRWA has been a stabilizing factor in a very challenging political and security context and if we cannot continue the program it will have grave consequences for affected communities in Gaza."

"People are desperate and the international community cannot even provide the bare minimum — for example a repaired home in winter — let alone a lifting of the blockade, access to markets or freedom of movement. We’ve said before quiet for quiet will not last, and now the quiet is at risk.”

(Al-Akhbar)

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