COVID-19 has resulted in an unprecedented global crisis. As the pandemic spreads and countries around the world continue to struggle to contain its health and socio-economic consequences, UNRWA is issuing a new humanitarian appeal from August through December 2020 to address the worst impacts of the pandemic on Palestine refugees across the Agency’s five fields of operation. Through this appeal the Agency seeks US$ 94.6 million. The funds requested in this appeal are additional to the previous UNRWA COVID-19 appeal for March to July.
Before the pandemic, Palestine refugees were already amongst the most vulnerable communities in the Middle East, with many facing multi-faceted crises. Measures taken to mitigate and suppress the spread of the virus have exacerbated these vulnerabilities, with severe impacts on lives and livelihoods.
Health systems across UNRWA areas of operation are under pressure, and cases have been reported in all fields. On 24 August, the first reported cases of local transmission of COVID-19 were reported in Gaza. The epidemiological situation has also deteriorated recently in West Bank, Syria and Lebanon, with rapid increases in the number of active COVID-19 cases and overstretched or limited response capacities to cope with the escalation. In such circumstances it is vital that essential services remain available to Palestine refugees to prevent a further deterioration in their humanitarian situation.
Conditions in Lebanon have deteriorated markedly following a major explosion at Beirut’s harbour on 4 August 2020 and give particular cause for concern. The blast completely destroyed the port and caused extensive damage in many neighbourhoods, leaving at least 160 people dead and more than 5,000 injured. The blast also damaged a number of hospitals, affecting their capacity to operate and to assist people injured from the blast as well as other patients, including COVID-19 cases. Lebanese authorities estimate that 300,000 people have been made homeless by the blast, while the economic damage amounts to billions of dollars. The explosion is aggravating an already dire situation, with the country in the midst of its worst-ever economic crisis, prompting immediate concerns about food security in a country which imports most of its basic food commodities.
Services and assistance provided by UNRWA under the March-July COVID-19 Appeal played an important role in limiting the spread of COVID-19 amongst Palestine refugee communities, also helping prevent a major outbreak in the areas of operation. The recent surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the region poses a major risk for Palestine refugees.
The August-December appeal will be crucial to controlling the spread in refugee camps and preventing a major outbreak. It will also continue addressing the severe socio-economic and other effects that the pandemic is causing. It builds on the response implemented and results achieved under the March-July UNRWA COVID-19 Flash Appeal. Interventions included in this appeal have been updated and priorities revised to reflect changes in context.
The continued provision of health, hospitalization, education, water and sanitation and protection services remain a core component of this appeal. As the main provider of primary care to a significant population of Palestine refugees, UNRWA is crucial to the public health system in all its fields of operation and its activities complement nationally-led preparedness and response efforts. All frontline health and non-health staff will continue to receive personal protective equipment (PPE), and where necessary, additional staff will be hired to replace those who may have contracted the virus or may be in quarantine, to avoid any disruption in services. Triage systems and telemedicine services will remain in place to reduce footfall at Agency clinics, as required.
UNRWA will continue to provide additional relief assistance to Palestine refugees affected by COVID-19. Cash and food interventions have also been adjusted to reflect changes in the operational context. In Gaza, as home delivery of food parcels transitions back to standard distribution, special risk mitigation measures - for example, distancing and other measures to avoid overcrowding, providing PPE to frontline staff, ensuring proper cleaning and disinfection - will be introduced at food distribution centres to ensure the safe provision of assistance; in Syria, UNRWA is planning to provide a top-up cash allowance to 418,000 Palestine refugees, to mitigate the additional hardship caused by both COVID-19 and the ongoing economic crisis affecting the country. In Jordan, the Agency will provide an additional round of cash assistance to the most vulnerable Palestine refugees including ex-Gazan and Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS).
An additional round of cash assistance will also be provided to all Palestine refugees and service eligible persons in Lebanon. In the West Bank, given the high number of COVID-19 cases, the Agency will continue to support families in quarantine with food and non-food items (NFIs).
In all UNRWA fields of operation, the 2020/2021 school year is expected to start at the end of August/beginning of September, in line with instructions from host Ministries of Education. At the time of writing the modalities for the resumption of school activities were subject to change; however, a combination of approaches including in-person and remote learning seems to be the most likely scenario. In all cases, the Agency’s priority remains to ensure a safe learning environment for students and teachers. For more information on the Agency’s approach to education in times of COVID-19, see page 8.
Through this Appeal, UNRWA is appealing for funds to cover Back to Learning needs until December 2020, to complement regular education services funded through the programme budget. However, additional resources are likely to be required beyond the end of 2020, to ensure that COVID-19 specific adjustments can be implemented throughout the school year. The Agency will also fundraise for its Back to School plan through special projects.
The Agency requires US$ 94.6 million to cover its COVID-19 humanitarian operations until the end of the year. Activities included in the appeal are informed by field level, regional and global inter-agency appeals coordinated by OCHA and WHO and are reflected in the July 2020 update of the Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP). UNRWA emphasizes that success of this appeal relies on full funding of its core programme budget for 2020, with its shortfall amounting to US$ 375 million at end August. Equally, US$ 42.6 million in critical humanitarian needs must be met under our 2020 oPt and Syria regional appeals, particularly for gaps in food and cash assistance in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon.