Recent weeks’ developments have brought the Gaza Strip to the brink of collapse. Firstly, UNRWA, which is one the main service providers and source of livelihood for about 1.3 million Palestine refugees in Gaza, is facing an unprecedented financial crisis. This has followed indications from the United States, the Agency’s main donor, that overall contributions to UNRWA in all its areas of operation in the Middle East in 2018 will fall far short of the more than $350 million it provided in 2017. UNRWA’s humanitarian interventions, which include food assistance to almost one million people in the Gaza Strip, are at particular risk. To date in 2018, none of released US funding has been provided to these projects and other donor contributions have not been sufficient to cover the gap. UNRWA’s projects constitute 53 per cent of the overall requirements for the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), the multi-agency strategy and funding appeal for the humanitarian community in the oPt.
Secondly, as highlighted in one of this Bulletin’s articles, the lack of progress in the implementation of the reconciliation agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas on October 2017, has resulted in little improvement for the population of Gaza. Although the Palestinian Authority (PA) reversed the funding cut implemented since June 2017, resulting in an increase in electricity supply by Israel, this has not translated into a net gain of equal amount, due to the diversion of funds that have reduced energy production by the Gaza Power Plant. Consequently, electricity outages of up to 16 hours a day, continue to undermine the provision of basic services. The PA has re-imposed a number of taxes on Gaza residents which, combined with the ongoing salary crisis in the public sector, are likely to worsen the already dire economic situation, reflected in an unemployment rate exceeding 46 percent. Despite Hamas transferring control of the Palestinian side of the Gaza crossings to the PA, there has been no change in the volume of people allowed through the Israeli and Egyptian controlled crossings.
Thirdly, funding for the emergency fuel provided by the UN to critical health, water, and sanitation services in Gaza, allowing them to run backup generators in the absence of power supply, will be exhausted by mid-February 2018, unless new funding is secured. Following the almost total exhaustion of fuel reserves, on 29 January, the Beit Hanoun hospital, which serves over 300,000 people in northern Gaza, announced a halt in the provision of medical services. Without emergency fuel, emergency and diagnostic services at the other 12 public hospitals will be severely reduced; 55 sewage pools will overflow; the functioning of 48 desalination plants will be reduced to around 20 per cent; and the capacity to collect 1,700 tons of solid waste per day will be cut by a third. To maintain the provision of 700,000 liters of fuel per month during 2018 to 175 critical facilities, $5.6 million is urgently required. This is the bare minimum required to stave off a collapse of basic services.
The Gaza situation has been further destabilized, another Bulletin article shows, by the heightened tensions observed since the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on 6 December 2017. Seventeen of the 20 Palestinian fatalities by Israeli forces across the oPt up to 30 January, nine of them in Gaza, occurred during protests and clashes, the vast of majority of which involved stone throwing by Palestinians. Following one of these killings, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights raised serious concerns “as to whether the force used by Israeli forces was properly calibrated to the threat.” The other three Palestinians were killed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, launched in response to the shooting of rockets and mortars by armed factions in Gaza towards southern Israel.
Another issue concerning Gaza, which is also addressed in this Bulletin, is gender-based violence (GBV). According to a number of surveys, the problem is more acute in Gaza than in the West Bank, attributable to the worsening humanitarian situation in the former. UN Women has recently launched a report highlighting the continuing gaps and needs of GBV prevention and service activities in Gaza. The report indicates that impoverishment and the absence of economic opportunities for breadwinners and their households are central drivers of GBV in Gaza. Dozens of local NGOs and community-based organizations in Gaza provide support for victims of GBV. As described by a GBV survivor featured in this Bulletin, this support helped her regain a new sense of purpose in life.
In his most recent briefing to the Security Council, the UN Special Coordinator to the Peace Process, Nikolay Mladenov, emphasized regarding the situation in the Gaza Strip, that to prevent additional suffering and avoid a new escalation, “the combustible cocktail of humanitarian, political and security challenges must be addressed urgently and effectively.”