Contribution to UNRWA Syria 2021
The Austrian contribution supports Strategic Priority 1: To preserve resilience through the provision of humanitarian assistance ensuring that the most vulnerable Palestine refugees meet their basic needs.
The expected output for strategic priority 1 is that "Palestine refugees are able to meet their life-saving needs and cope with sudden crises". This shall be achieved through the Provision of relief assistance including cash assistance, food assistance, distribution of NFIs (non-food items), winterization support and shelter repairs.
With the contribution from the Austrian Development Agency, UNRWA will be able to provide five months’ worth of cash assistance to 21,992 beneficiaries. This includes 8,212 Palestine refugees belonging to the most vulnerable categories and 13,780 belonging to other vulnerable categories, contributing to the third round of cash assistance in 2021.
The categories identified as most vulnerable are: people belonging to the following groups: i) female-head households, ii) families headed by a disabled person and persons with disabilities, iii) families headed by an elderly person and iv) unaccompanied minors.
UNRWA works in Damascus, Rural Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Latakia, and Dera'a.
As per UNRWA Emergency Appeal and based on UNRWA needs assessments, each Palestine refugee in the most vulnerable categories will receive USD 27 per person per month (total amount per refugee is USD 135 for five months), while remaining vulnerable refugees will receive 16 USD per person per month (total amount per refugee is USD 80 for five months). As per standard practice, the budget for this grant has been calculated based on these figures, to contribute to the third round of cash assistance of 2021. However, in case sufficient funding is not secured for the third round, the amounts to be provided per person might have to be reduced. For example, for the two first rounds of 2021, due to funding shortfall, UNRWA had to reduce the amounts provided per person per month to respectively 14 USD and 9 USD. Should this be the case also in the third round, the number of beneficiaries covered under this grant would be increased accordingly.
After ten years of conflict, the crisis in Syria continues to pose severe and increasing humanitarian challenges for the population, including Palestine refugees who are suffering from its direct repercussions and remain in acute need of assistance. While active conflict has subsided in large areas of the country, fighting continues in the north of Syria (mainly in the north-western Idlib governorate and surroundings) with fluctuating levels of intensity. The situation in the south (Dera’a governorate) remains precarious and tense over the year, with reconciliation agreements becoming increasingly fragile and tension mounting between government forces and non-state armed groups, leading in many cases to violent clashes. Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) continue to claim the lives of civilians, and Palestine refugees in camps and areas that witnessed active fighting over the past ten years are particularly at risk. The threat posed by attacks with Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) also remains of concern. The situation is further inflamed by regional tensions, and occasional Israeli strikes targeting different parts of the country, mostly around Damascus/Rif Damascus, Quneitra and Homs/Hama governorates.
Meanwhile, a rapidly deteriorating economy and near hyperinflation are increasing the vulnerability of the entire population. As more than 91 per cent of the Palestine refugees in Syria live below the poverty line, the drastic loss of purchasing power during this economic crisis renewed fears about meeting basic needs in particular food. In April 2021, the national average food basket price was 100 percent higher than that of October 2020 (six months ago) and was 247 percent higher compared to April 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed increased hardship on the entire population in Syria, including Palestine refugees. As of 20 June 2021, 25,118 cases (including 1,845 deaths and 21,738 recoveries) had been confirmed by the Syrian Ministry of Health (MoH). COVID-19 testing capacity remains low particularly in remote areas. It is therefore likely that the actual number of cases is significantly higher than the figures reported, and widespread community transmission is feared. Health care workers are particularly at risk, which impacts an already overstretched healthcare system suffering from a shortage of qualified personnel; it further compromises the system’s capacity to cope with the pandemic in the long run. The evolving crisis has also had a severe socio-economic impact on the population, with the introduction of travel restrictions and the imposition of local lockdowns, partial curfews and other preventative measures to contain the spread of the virus.
According to an assessment conducted by UNRWA in July 2020 on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on Palestine refugees in Syria, close to 80 per cent of the surveyed persons stated that the number of meals or quantity of food consumed had reduced since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. More than 90 per cent of Palestine refugee households stated that they had to resort to consuming cheaper food and/or food of lower nutritious value. Ninety nine per cent of Palestine refugee households surveyed reported that they struggled to purchase food and other basic items due to the increasing market prices, with many going into debt to meet their basic needs.
In this challenging context, the humanitarian assistance provided by UNRWA remains a lifeline for the overwhelming majority of Palestine refugees and reliance on the Agency is expected to increase. The health and socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 are expected to persist and will continue to constrain Palestine refugees’ income and livelihood opportunities.