$193m in relief needed for refugees in the West Bank and Gaza

Three years of curfews, closures and conflict in the West Bank and Gaza have plunged two-thirds of the population into dire poverty, increased hunger and restricted access to health and education. Today UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees and the largest humanitarian agency in the region, launches an emergency appeal to the international community asking for $193 million to relieve some of the suffering in the occupied territories in 2004.

The Agency needs the funds to continue operating the largest food aid programme in the West Bank and Gaza - feeding over one million people - and to provide shelter to the homeless, counselling for traumatised children, additional medical services and crucial work programmes for the unemployed.

Peter Hansen, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, today launched the appeal to representatives of the international donor community in Jerusalem. He said: “I urge donors to assist UNRWA in caring for the thousands who have lost their jobs or their homes. UNRWA needs this funding if it is to repair some of the damage done to the minds and emotions of the children it cares for, or to simply provide food for the hungry. In such dark and desparate times it falls upon the international community to keep some hope alive.”

A critical element of the programme will be the provision of help to the tens of thousands of refugees whose livelihoods are threatened by the construction of the West Bank barrier. UNRWA will continue to monitor the impact of the wall/fence on refugees - already the first phase has affected 90,000 refugees - and adapt its humanitarian responses through the year.

To assist the very poor, UNRWA plans to spend $62 million on creating 2.3 million work days for unemployed refugees through direct and indirect-hire job schemes. These give unemployed breadwinners the diginity of supporting their families, while allowing them to improve the infrastructure of their communities.

UNRWA will also spend $55 million in 2004 on basic food commodities. The Agency will target 222,000 refugee families who have been identified by the Agency’s relief workers as too poor to provide for all their own needs.

A major element in the 2004 appeal is funding to allow UNRWA to rehouse some of the more than 15,000 refugees whose homes have been demolished in the West Bank and Gaza since the start of the strife. In addition,16,000 shelters have been damaged. In 2003 the rate of demolitions doubled. UNRWA will soon have completed construction of around 500 replacement housing units, mainly for those made homeless in the first two years of the intifada, with another 290 in the pipeline. However, $32.8 million is urgently needed to rebuild an additional 1,100 homes and repair thousands more.

A key programme for the Agency in 2004 will be the provision of cash and in-kind assistance as a safety net for the very poorest refugees and their children. Cash will be given to those whose homes are destroyed in demolition operations to allow them to rent a temporary accomodation and to purchase essential items such as clothes and cooking equipment. In-kind assistance will take the form of blankets and mattresses. There will also be basic school necessities like bags, shoes and stationery for 140,000 children in Gaza whose families cannot afford to provide for their needs. UNRWA requires over $26 million to provide emergency cash and in-kind assistance in 2004.

Growing poverty, violence and restricted freedom of movement has increased demand for UNRWA’s health services in the occupied territory. There has been a 35 percent drop in the proportion of infants below six months of age completing immunization programmes while home births have risen sharply. UNRWA needs more medicines, funding for mobile medical teams to reach isolated communities and additional medical staff. The Agency plans to spend $5.4 million on emergency medical care in 2004.

Exposure to armed clashes and the suffocating curfews and closures have caused acute psychological stress for Palestinian children. A study by Save the Children found that 93% of Palestinian children feel unsafe and more than half feel their parents can no longer protect them. Half of the children surveyed have witnessed violence affecting an immediate family member and 21% have had to flee their home for a period because of the conflict. Almost all parents report traumatic behaviour including nightmares, bedwetting, increased aggressiveness and hyperactivity. UNRWA needs $3.6 million for its Psycho-Social Support (PSP) programme. It currently employs 75 school counsellors and 41 mental health counsellors who work in UNRWA schools clinics and community centres.

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