GAZA, October 13, 2005, (WAFA)- The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) published Thursday its Emergency Appeal 2005 - Special Report.
Since 2000, UNRWA has delivered emergency programming in West Bank and Gaza with the aim of protecting vulnerable refugee population from the worst effects of the countermeasures which Israel has deployed against the Intifada.
According to the report, The first six months of 2005 have borne witness to a welcome decrease in deaths and injuries on both sides of the conflict and an end to the widespread practice of home demolitions in Gaza.
However, the report says, no improvement has been noted, or is forecast in the short-term, in the macro-economic indicators in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
`The internal closure regime remains the biggest inhibitor of economic revival in the West Bank and the completion of the barrier`s route (Apartheid Wall) around Jerusalem is near. Israel has marginally relaxed its restrictions on the number of workers entering Israel but no significant increase is planned in the post-disengagement era. The future potential of access to Gaza by sea and air routes remains latent,` the report said.
It added that, in the light of its experience over the past five years, the Agency remains convinced, of the value of its emergency programming. Trust in the Agency among Palestinians in Gaza remains very high, as was demonstrated by a survey conducted by FAFO, the independent Norwegian research foundation, between 3 August and 9 September.
`Some 78 percent expressed confidence in UNRWA, compared with 24 percent for the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Palestinian Authority Council of Ministers,` according to the report.
UNRWA`s conviction about the need for its emergency programme requires validation. In addition to the usual quantitative information, in this report the Agency reviews the changes in the situation over the past six months and includes the results of a number of focus groups and personal interviews.
This research was undertaken by external researchers in mid-2005 and their results vividly convey the positive impact which emergency programming has had, and continues to have, on the lives of Palestine refugees in this transitional period.
Hereinafter is the context of the 2005 appeal
When UNRWA planned its Emergency Appeal during autumn 2004, the developing situation at that time was characterized under the following headings:
- Loss of life;
- Destruction of property and infrastructure;
- Closure measures;
- Economic deterioration; and
- Problems with humanitarian access
The following reviews the main developments which have taken place under these headings in the first six months of 2005.
Loss of life
In the first six months of 2005, 120 Palestinians were killed and 654 injured. In the same period, 21 Israelis were killed and 196 injured. A comparison between the last two quarters of 2004 and the first two quarters of 2005 shows a marked lessening in the levels of violence with fatalities and injuries significantly reduced amongst both Palestinians and Israelis. The number of Palestinians killed by Israeli army and settler operations has fallen by over 73% from 460 to 120 cases during the period whilst injuries have fallen by over 70% from 2,002 to 654 cases. Correspondingly, the number of Israelis killed has fallen by over 53% from 45 to 21 cases between the six month periods and injuries are down by nearly 45% from 358 to 196.
This reduction of the level of violence on both sides is both significant and welcome. The situation however remains fragile and the number of violent incidents recorded in the Gaza Strip has been gradually escalating in recent months in the run up to disengagement, largely as a result of increased home made rocket attacks and mortar fire on Israeli settlements and military installations.
Destruction of property and infrastructure
Home destruction, a key feature of Israel`s military response to the Intifada in Gaza has likewise significantly abated. In the first nine months of 2004, demolitions were running at an average of 77 per month in Rafah alone. During the Days of Penitence incursion into Jabalia in October, 675 Palestinians were made homeless when 91 homes were destroyed during a ten day period. The first six months of 2005 in Gaza have witnessed a cessation in the use of this tactic and no homes belonging to refugees were recorded as being destroyed. This positive development was mirrored in the West Bank where no refugee shelters were reported as demolished as a result of military activity and only a few families reported minor damages.
OCHA have reported an 11% reduction in the number of closure barriers since November 2004 with the number as of March 2005 standing at 605. OCHA notes that while this has eased movement in some parts of the West Bank, evidence suggests that in some areas static barriers have been replaced with `flying` vehicle checkpoints. The barrier itself has almost completely encircled the city of Jerusalem with the exception of the section around the Az-Za`im checkpoint. Checkpoints in the barrier will regulate the movement of Palestinians to and from Jerusalem, and are likely to lead to a further reduction in the number of Palestinians entering. This development places an estimated 60,000 Palestinians holding Jerusalem identity cards on the eastern side of the barrier and therefore subject to restricted access to services inside the city.
Between January and March, there was a steady increase in the number of Palestinian workers and merchants entering Israel and the Erez industrial zone. This trend ended following the closure of Erez with the onset of the Jewish Passover holidays in the third week of April. The closure continued until 15 May for Palestinian workers and merchants, and 16 May for access to Erez industrial zone. This closure was imposed on the grounds that some workers had been submitting false documents while trying to leave the Gaza Strip.
Despite recent political developments and progress in implementing the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip and part of the Northern West Bank, microeconomic indicators in the OPT have not shown any sign of improvement during the first half of 2005.
The severe deterioration of economic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after five years of Intifada is reflected in recent trends of labour market indicators.
The unemployment rate for the first quarter of 2005 is estimated at 26.3%,(1) compared to 10% on the eve of the Intifada . According to PCBS data, the unemployment rate peaked in 2002 and has since stabilized at around 26 - 28 percent overall. At present, more than a quarter of the economically active population in the OPT is unemployed, with a higher percentage in Gaza (34%) than in the West Bank (22.6%).
In order to restore levels of unemployment to pre-Intifada levels, it has been estimated that about 130,000 new job opportunities will be needed. In addition, 27,000 posts, along with 30,000 new houses will be required every year to keep up with annual population growth. Overall, labour force participation decreased by 3.2% during the first quarter of 2005. The total number of people in paid employment has dropped and Palestinians are found to be gradually more engaged in family business or self-employment activities. Preconditions for economic recovery are still far from being met. More than half of the Palestinian population is living on less than NIS 1,850 (US$411) per month, which represents the estimated poverty line for a reference household in the OPT. External assistance is thus likely to remain vital in the foreseeable future. Additional evidence for this conclusion is provided by recent trends in the dependency ratio, the ratio of economically inactive to economically active population, which increased from 4.8 to 6.3 in the first months of 2005. As a key indicator of trends in standards of living, the increasing dependency ratio in the Palestinian context suggests that living conditions are further deteriorating - 4.8 in 2000, increasing to 6.3 at the end of June. Nominal daily wages in the West Bank have decreased from NIS 71.6 (US$16) at the end of 2004 to NIS 71.1 in the 1st quarter of 2005, while a slight increase has been recorded in Gaza; adjusted for inflation, real purchasing power has declined significantly. The percentage of employees whose monthly salary is considered to be below the poverty line reached 58.8% in the first months of 2005.
Access constraints and restrictions on the movement of Palestinian people and goods are having a detrimental impact on the total number of employed persons by sector.
According to PCBS, the total number of Palestinians working in the agricultural sector significantly decreased in recent months. Although seasonality has to be taken into account, the drop is particularly significant in the West Bank, where the percentage of employment in agriculture has decreased from 22.8% at the end of 2004 to 14.4% in the first quarter of 2005.
Concern is rising at the economic conditions of Palestinian households and their ability to cope with such a prolonged crisis. Throughout the Intifada median monthly income in the OPT has dropped from NIS 2,500 to NIS 1,500 (US$333 at the current exchange rate). The loss of income for households has resulted in a substantial reduction of both consumption and savings. Palestinian assets have been critically eroded and coping strategies exhausted.
The deterioration of living conditions in the Palestinian territories is confirmed by an increasing reduction of household expenditure on basic needs. A higher proportion of cash expenditure is(2) allocated to food, which has become the priority need in OPT . In this context, humanitarian assistance will continue to play a major role.
In the West Bank, the number of access problems at checkpoints manned by Israeli Army and Border Police affecting UNRWA staff members remained stable during the first two months before increasing again during March: Thirty five access problems were reported to the Operations Office in January; 31 in February; and 59 in March.
Over the second quarter of the year, the number of access problems involving UNRWA staff members was reduced significantly overall: 104 access problems were reported in April; 64 in May; and 68 in June.
During April, the Israeli authorities did not allow UNRWA to import petrol through the Karni crossing. Initially it was determined that the movement of petrol was a security issue; later it was termed a safety issue. Instead of using Karni, the Agency was asked to use the Nahal Oz petrol pumping station.
The Agency was unable to comply with this request since the operations of the pumping station were not compatible with either UN or donor procurement regulations. Israeli authorities relented in June and allowed a `one time` delivery of petrol to the Agency in Gaza.
Supplies are now in place to last the Agency until November.
Separately, the Israeli authorities, through the Erez Liaison Office, have been supportive in permitting the Agency to bring in additional supplies of food, medicine and equipment to allow pre-positioning in advance of Gaza disengagement.