Funds Shortage Forces UNRWA to Suspend Gaza Homeless Assistance: $100M Urgently Needed

GAZA, January 27, 2015 (WAFA) – UNRWA has been forced to suspend its cash assistance program in Gaza to tens of thousands of people for repairs to damaged and destroyed homes and for rental subsidies to the homeless, Tuesday said an UNRWA press release.

It said that while $720 million is required for rental subsidies and repairs to over 96,000 Palestinian refugee families, whose homes were damaged or destroyed during last summer’s conflict, UNRWA has so far 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, UNRWA has exhausted all funding to support repairs and rental subsidies.

“UNRWA in Gaza has so far provided over $77 million to 66,000 Palestine refugee families to repair their homes or find a temporary alternative,” said UNRWA Director in Gaza Robert Turner. “This is a tremendous achievement; it is also wholly insufficient.”

Turner said that while discussion involves numbers, the reality is that such numbers represent real thousands of real families who are under the mercy of cold winter with inadequate shelter.

“People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble; children have died of hypothermia. $5.4 billion was pledged at the Cairo conference last October and virtually none of it has reached Gaza. This is distressing and unacceptable.”

“It is unclear why this funding has not been forthcoming,” added Turner. “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.”

He continued, “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 that quiet will not last, and now the quiet is at risk.”

UNRWA said $100 million is urgently needed in the first quarter of 2015 to allow families with minor damage to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies, including to the thousands of families who left UNRWA-run collective centers and found alternative rental accommodation.

The international organization said it is concerned that if it cannot continue to provide rental subsidies, large numbers may return to the collective centers, where almost 12,000 displaced Palestinians continue to seek shelter.

UNRWA Media Advisor in Gaza Adnan Abu Hasna said earlier this week that a meeting between UNRWA officials and representatives of donor countries will take place in the city of Jerusalem to discuss issues related to the reconstruction of Gaza.

He said UNRWA will convey a clear and decisive position regarding the reconstruction process after the meeting, without giving more details

UNRWA’s Director of Operations in the Gaza Strip Robert Turner had previously said that the budget of UNRWA required to reconstruct what has been damaged during the Israeli war on Gaza will fall short by January 2015.

UNRWA mentioned in a press release mid December 2014 that the final count of partially or fully damaged homes in the Gaza Strip is estimated at 96,000 homes. UNRWA described such figures as shocking and surprising.

Turner confirmed that the delay in transferring the necessary funds to UNRWA will render it incapable of helping thousands of families in paying the rent after losing their homes during the war.

Israel waged its war on the Gaza Strip on August 7 of 2014, which lasted for 51 days. During the time, over 2,200 Palestinians were killed, mostly unarmed civilians, while another 11,000 were injured, according to the Ministry of Health.

Arab and world countries pledged to offer $5.4 billion; half of it to reconstruct the Gaza Strip and the other to meet the needs of Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority’s budget.