Posted on 17 December 2018

Remarks delivered at the launch of the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan

By Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory

As delivered in Ramallah, 17 December 2018

Good morning everyone. Welcome. Thanks for coming to the launch.

It’s my great pleasure to address you today, at this launch, together with his Excellency, the Minister of Social Development, Dr. Ibrahim Al Shaer.

The situation in Palestine continues to be characterized as a protracted protection crisis, and massive humanitarian challenges in Gaza in particular. And this is largely attributable to the ongoing occupation by Israel, of the West Bank and Gaza, the continuing internal Palestinian divide, I think, as well as violations of international law. It’s now being, I think, aggravated by the serious shortfall in funding that we faced this year, not just for UNRWA, but for the collective humanitarian community. Matthias will speak more on the actual UNRWA situation.

Within the context of these rising needs and unprecedented challenges, the 2019 appeal is being launched. There are rising needs. 2018 saw a serious deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Palestine, especially in Gaza, with recurrent violence and outbreaks and an enormous rise in casualties that happened as a result of the “Great March of Return.”

Since the beginning of the demonstrations on 30 March, we’ve had some 13,000 people injured and over 200 Palestinians killed.

The core drivers for humanitarian needs, including in the situation in Gaza, is unemployment, poverty and food insecurity. The World Bank report for the AHLC meeting in September said the Gaza economy was in ‘freefall.”

The rise in casualties is overwhelming an already impoverished health system in Gaza, already devastated by the 11-year Israeli blockade which has affected the ability of importing materials, alongside the energy crisis and the deepening intra-Palestinian divide, which in itself, is contributing to the rise in needs.

A significant number of the injures have required a great deal of complex interventions by medical staff, and this expertise is not currently available. Approximately 8,000 elective surgeries have been postponed, delayed or cancelled, and this is because of the massive influx of trauma patients into the hospital system there and patients have been discharged early.

I go regularly to Gaza and I go regularly to the hospitals, and I have always been very impressed by health workers both in the hospitals but also on the front line on Fridays: the risk they take to their lives – often a great personal risk. So far, three health workers have been killed in the line of duty since March, and hundreds of others have been injured. We saw last Friday that some health workers were injured as well.

Patients being referred outside Gaza: it’s very difficult to get exit, because right now under 60 per cent of people get approved to leave.

The violence has generated, not unexpectedly, largescale, widespread mental health problems and psychosocial issues, with approximately 50,000 people, half of them children, in need of some sort of related response.

For much of 2018, power cuts of 18-20 hours has been a regular feature of people’s lives – this has affected the delivery of basic services, including health, electricity, but also for water, sanitation and sewage water treatment. Since late October, we’ve used Qatar-funded fuel to go to the Gaza Power Plant, which has allowed for electricity to be expanded from four to approximately ten-twelve hours a day, which is very helpful given the winter conditions. At the same time, it also helped to take away or alleviate the pressure on the fuel that we [UN] had to supply through the emergency fuel fund. That will still be needed because the fuel from Qatar runs out in April [2019].

There is a palpable sense of hopelessness and desperation, in Gaza, among the people there, and a sense that no one is doing enough. Seventy per cent of the people under the age of 30 are unemployed, they don’t see a future for themselves. We are trying to do as much as we can, but we are limited by the conditions, the current situation and also limited by lack of resources. The rising violence and tension are fueling concerns of a renewed escalation of hostilities, as we saw quite recently: it’s a very fragile dynamic there.

While the humanitarian situation in the West Bank is less acute, economic growth there is also slowing down. Israeli occupation continues and, with it, the appropriation of land and resources. There is a coercive environment that is permanent and it is intensifying, driven by demolitions, by forced evictions, discriminatory planning, as well as access restrictions, and increased settler violence and settlement expansion. This  generates the risk of forcible transfer for many Palestinians, especially in Area C, East Jerusalem and the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron city, H2. We have seen settler violence increasing in the recent months and years, and damage to property. Thousands remain in a constant state of insecurity, with demolition orders against their homes, schools, as people try to eke out a livelihood within that very desperate situation.

Throughout the oPt, ongoing occupation is deepening, territorial and political fragmentation are current, and this has, I think, contributed heavily to cynicism and uncertainty for the future.

More challenges we face in case of rising needs are humanitarian actors faced with record-low funding levels this year, at the same time we face massive and increasing needs, especially in some sectors, and there are difficulties to operate because of restrictions. The political forces which are using needs or tampering with aids, attacks that are are designed to delegitimize humanitarian actors.

Funding for 2018 was at a record low, with only 40 per cent – the global average of nearly 58 per cent. This is not UNRWA this is across the board cuts but for UNRWA more specifically. But the cuts, I think, are part of broader cuts that are affecting humanitarian agencies, and this is something which I think is politically driven.

Humanitarian organizations and civil society organizations are facing extensive restrictions affecting their operating space from both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, which hampers their ability to provide assistance and protection to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel has imposed physical and administrative restrictions on the movement of staff, especially national staff. It has a major impact on our work. We’ve seen many people… a rise in the number of people denied permits to come over and one-year bans, and new crossing procedures have been put in place, which makes our environment all the more complicated.

Restrictions on the delivery of materials, is something else.

In Gaza, we face restrictions imposed by, and prohibitions on contact with, the Hamas de-facto authorities and by the general divide of the Palestinian Authority.

There is also continued pressure on human rights defenders, including arrest and detentions, harassment and legislation aimed at constricting humanitarian civil space, and not allowing us to afford the people the level of protection required.

The operating space of humanitarian actors is increasingly impacted by the actions of people like UN Watch and NGO Monitor, who are out there to delegitimize humanitarian action in Palestine, including allegations of misconduct and misuse of funds. We don’t mind as humanitarians any type of scrutiny, but it has to be evidence-based. Any scrutiny or auditing is meant to improve performance but in this case it is meant to block our performance, so it’s important that we push back on that.

We have a new plan, which is developed for 2019, and it requires (a change in) our operational context and the resources needed to make this happen. This will not change in the foreseeable future unless there’s a change in the political dynamic, and the ‘business as usual’ format we had from years in the past. we have to adopt a new approach building on the previous plan but also be much more realistic, much smarter in the way we address this in this very highly constrained context, a very politically-charged environment as well as the regional and global environment which is not favourable at this point in time.

We also continue to recognize that local actors and local responders are the backbones of the response in the humanitarian. We need to expand our local partnerships,  we need to expand local ownership. We try to increasingly engage with affected populations and be much more accountable to the affected population because we have to listen to them more.

What’s new for this year coming: This year coming there’s $350 million have been asked for to provide basic food, protection, health care, shelter, water and sanitation. We have taken this Humanitarian Response Plan and brought it to the most focused and prioritized it could possibly be. We have done that in consultation with donors, so we expect there will be a better donor response to the plan, because we have worked in consult with you to get this to be what it is.

This lower number does not reflect a reduction in the level of humanitarian need in Palestine. On the contrary, as I have outlined, there has been significant deterioration in the past year, particularly in the areas of health and food security; these needs have increased dramatically. If we asked for the money we actually needed to provide humanitarian assistance to all 2.5 million people, we would be asking for $800 million. That’s unacceptable and unhelpful and it’s not going to happen but I would also say that what it would also do would end up replacing the responsibilities of the authorities, rather than supporting it and shoring gaps up.

I think, as the humanitarian conditions have deteriorated, our ability to help people has also gone down. We have to change the dynamic. We will be able to assist fewer people this year: 1.4 million people are being targeted as opposed to 1.9 million last year.

This is based on the maximum number of vulnerable people that we are able to address in this highly-restricted environment. This year, we have received only US$217 million. So, we are requesting $350 million, we are still asking for more than we actually received this year (2018) although well below the real needs.

What we are trying to do is to try and change the way we work, trying to focus our activities on the key areas of need. We recognize that much more is needed but we will only be able to do what we can with the increase of support from the parties and increase of funding from the international community and both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities need to do more for the Palestinians affected by the deepening humanitarian crisis in Palestine, instead of transferring the burden to the humanitarian community. The international community needs to increase its support to the prioritized plan and resist efforts by some to politicize humanitarian funding as we’ve seen clearly this year with UNRWA.

We stand ready to do much more, but to do so, we will also need to be able to access communities without interference, we would also need to be able to get our staff in and out and between parts of the occupied territory, we must be able to deliver goods and services to people who need them, and the Palestinian and Israeli authorities need to facilitate our work rather than trying, in some cases, to undermine it.     

When reputable organizations with proven records of delivering critical humanitarian assistance in line with international humanitarian principles, and in line with donor scrutiny, are attacked, the authorities and donors must assist us in pushing back to ensure that the space is there to deliver the assistance.

In the end, humanitarian interventions in Palestine do not replace and cannot replace a political solution. We need a political solution in Palestine, and we are pushing hard from the UN and other parts. The growing humanitarian needs are there, and we have to respond to them regardless of the political feelings. That’s why we need total donor support for the $350 million plan.  

The new approach we have adopted should send a signal to all that a ‘business as usual’ – the changing point of view of Palestine is there – and we can have no longer a ‘business as usual’ approach in Palestine, not only on the humanitarian front but also on the global and regional front as well.

So thanks very much.