This report summarizes the main activities carried out by UNRWA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic between March and June 2020, which have been reported in weekly and later fortnightly updates since April.
Since the beginning of the outbreak, the Agency has shown flexibility and innovation in rapidly reprogramming its interventions and introducing new initiatives as part of its COVID-19 response to ensure continued service delivery in conditions of safety for staff and beneficiaries. Some of these interventions are:
• Triage of patients in health centres, telemedicine hotlines and appointment systems to reduce foot traffic in health facilities
• Home deliveries of medicines for patients with noncommunicable diseases (NCD) in some Fields • Home deliveries of food parcels in Gaza and for families in the West Bank in home isolation
• Phone hotlines in all five Field offices to enable Palestine refugees to access information on Agency services
• Scale up of cash and food distribution programmes to mitigate the additional socio-economic hardship caused by COVID-19
• Activation of the Education in Emergencies (EiE) programme where nearly 92 per cent of UNRWA students were able to use self-learning resources during school closures
• Camp disinfection activities to augment the Agency’s environmental health services
UNRWA also undertook a major procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), including 1.3 million medical masks and 3.24 million gloves to protect health workers and other front line staff against the spread of COVID-19.
The Agency’s COVID-19 response has been operating under extremely difficult circumstances. Palestine refugees are among the most vulnerable communities in the region, particularly in the context of nearly ten years of conflict and a growing financial crisis in Syria, an economic crisis in Lebanon, chronic impoverishment and blockade in Gaza and an increasingly tense political environment in the West Bank as a result of Israel’s new annexation plan.
The COVID-19 infection rate has varied across the five Fields, with relatively low morbidity compared with other countries in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. Different lockdown movement restrictions and quarantine measures continue to reflect the ever-changing epidemiological situation across the five Fields and the Agency’d response remains agile to adapt to those restrictions. However, in June, the West Bank reported a new increase in COVID-19 cases, with Palestine refugees and UNRWA staff and services affected amid growing concerns for public health. A rising number of cases was also reported in Lebanon and Syria.
Between March to June 2020, most Agency offices were closed and the majority of staff worked remotely from home until mid-June, with the exception of a small number of front line field staff who ensured that minimal services were maintained and the most vulnerable refugees were supported. Support for nearly 30,000 staff to help them cope with front line and remote working has been provided through counselling services.
In order to effectively maintain essential services UNRWA worked closely with host government authorities, especially with their ministries of health and education, and has supported their quarantine operations in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. The Agency has also closely coordinated with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN agencies, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, NGOs and community based organizations (CBOs). UNRWA continues to participate in UN Country Team (UNCT) coordination processes in all five Fields and has provided input into OCHA’s COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP). In addition, field staff have coordinated activities with other UN Agencies and NGO partners in a number of Clusters and sector working groups and are collaborating with the many thousands of parents who have been helping their children with distance learning.
To respond to the most urgent health and non-health needs arising from the COVID-19 emergency, UNRWA launched a US$ 93.4 million Flash Appeal covering the period March-July 2020. As of 15 July, the appeal remains at 56 per cent funded. Of the US$ 130 million raised at the UNRWA Extraordinary Virtual Ministerial Pledging Conference on 23 June, US$ 19.5 million has been earmarked for the COVID-19 response.
UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East