Challenges caused by long-term displacement: temporary shelter solutions for IDPs in Beit Hanoun

Heavily affected area in Beit Hanoun. Photo by OCHA.
Heavily affected area in Beit Hanoun. Photo by OCHA.

Beit Hanoun is a Palestinian community located in the northern Gaza Strip, close to the Access Restricted Area (ARA) along the perimeter fence with Israel (see ARA box below). Beit Hanoun sustained heavy damage during the July-August hostilities in Gaza. Approximately 3,600 households were displaced as a result of damage or total destruction of their homes (1,466 destroyed homes and 995 severely damaged), approximately half of Beit Hanoun’s 50,000 residents. All the residents of Beit Hanoun are Palestine refugees.

Since the August 2014 ceasefire, IDPs in Beit Hanoun have settled in pre-fabricated housing units in two temporary displacement sites: 89 households on land owned by the municipality and in 80 pre-fabricated housing units erected in the vicinity of destroyed homes. Others have been housed with host families or in UNRWA collective centres. By mid-June, the Agency closed the last shelter, after all families there, with UNRWA’s assistance, found alternative accommodations, allowing the affected buildings to be returned to their original uses, primarily as schools. In assessments carried out by the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, IDPs indicated a preference to remain in close proximity to their damaged or destroyed homes so as to be close to relatives, children’s schools and other services provided in their local community. IDPs also prioritized staying close to their home to benefit from any potential assistance offered.

An IDP committee was established in Beit Hanoun following the summer hostilities by IDPs who are considered residents of Beit Hanoun and local representatives, including municipality workers and members of community-based organizations. The committee monitors the situation of IDPs and also engages in coordination during emergencies, including organizing volunteers to help evacuate people to safe places, as demonstrated during the winter storm.

Challenges to service provision

The Beit Hanoun municipality provides some basic services to IDPs, including WASH and solid waste management. The municipality also issues building permits and damage certificates based on initial damage assessments. As with other IDPs throughout Gaza, service provision in Beit Hanoun is delivered by multiple actors including UNRWA, WFP, and other UN agencies and NGOs. Assistance includes food parcels, NFIs and cash assistance for home repairs. Some actors have also provided cash for work opportunities, albeit to a limited number of people. According to the municipality, around 95 per cent of Beit Hanoun’s IDP population received a rental subsidy from UNRWA around four months after the end of hostilities for a period of up to four months. Until now, the majority of IDPs have not received any other payment despite their mounting needs.

One of the biggest challenges facing IDPs is the limited availability of rental accommodation, coupled with lack of resources to pay rental fees as a result of economic devastation, unemployment and recurrent conflict. UNRWA piloted a project to complete partially finished buildings in 10 housing units in Beit Hanoun for IDP families by offering the owners a payment equivalent to two years of rental subsidy to complete the housing unit.

According to the municipality, other challenges facing IDPs include the payment of fees necessary to replace land ownership documents and municipal service fees. Furthermore, IDPs continue to face a range of protection threats, including unexploded ordnance in the rubble of damaged and destroyed homes. With funding from the United States, UNDP initiated a project which has so far removed about 30 per cent of the enormous quantity of rubble accumulated by the large-scale destruction in Beit Hanoun, although some IDPs have removed rubble themselves due to the slow progress in rubble removal.

IDPs in pre-fabricated housing units suffer in the summer heat

High summer temperatures are compounding the already vulnerable situation for Gaza’s IDPs. In response, OCHA coordinated an initial multi-sector assessment with cluster partners across the Gaza Strip during May to assess the situation of IDPs in pre-fabricated housing units at temporary displacement sites. The main needs identified included providing shade at these sites; insulation to temporary structures/caravans; a more stable electricity supply; appropriate access to drinking water, alternative water storage or larger water storage facilities; fridges; and cooled community spaces, including areas where women’s privacy can be guaranteed and children can study and play. In the temporary displacement sites in Beit Hanoun, the lack of privacy between units, limited availability of drinking water and high summer temperatures were listed as the main challenges.
Clusters are developing a range of cluster-specific response plans to meet the most urgent needs identified during the assessment for implementation in the coming weeks.

Information gaps persist

Service providers and the municipality are still struggling to identify the needs of IDPs in order to improve service provision. Lack of information regarding the exact location of IDPs and their conditions at the household level is an ongoing challenge. Lack of information about vulnerable groups is also detrimental to the ability of humanitarian responders to address the needs of these individuals. In response, a multi-actor initiative (clusters, agencies, authorities, municipalities and the IDPs themselves) of IDP Vulnerability Profiling, coordinated by OCHA, will be launched after Ramadan to better track IDPs with special needs and collect details about location, needs and concerns.

* Content for this article was contributed by NRC’s Urban Displacement Out of Camps (UDOC) team in Gaza. The piece originally appeared in OCHA’s May 2015 Humanitarian Bulletin.