Internal Palestinian divide continues to impact on the delivery of basic services in the Gaza Strip

Building under construction housing IDPs; Beit Hanoun. Photo by OCHA, October 2015
Building under construction housing IDPs; Beit Hanoun. Photo by OCHA, October 2015

Public employees hired after 2007 have not received salaries for the past 18 months

The longstanding divide between the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip continues to impede the delivery of basic services in Gaza. Despite the formation of a Government of National Consensus (GNC) in April 2014, the GNC has been unable to assume full responsibilities in Gaza due to lack of agreement on key questions related to the transfer of powers.

The lack of clear authority and reporting lines between governmental institutions in the Gaza Strip and their West Bank counterparts has to some extent resulted in duplication of functions, management gaps, and contradictory administrative orders. Moreover, since the formation of the GNC, there appears to have been a sharp decline in the allocation of funds to all governmental bodies in Gaza, impeding the performance of basic functions and preventing salary payments to public employees hired by the former Hamas de facto authorities. This has led to increased work absenteeism.

In the aftermath of the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, thousands of civil and security servants (67,000) were either forced by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah to stop working, or were fired by the new de facto authorities (i.e. Hamas). Although some of these employees returned to work (9,000 in health and education mainly), another 51,000 are still being paid by the PA but are not reporting to work. To bridge the gap, the de facto Gaza authorities gradually employed around 42,000 new staff, including some 24,000 in the social sector alone. However, since mid-2013, the ability of the de facto authorities to pay the salaries of the new employees was severely restricted due to the closure of the smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, which were a major source of revenue.

These factors have severely weakened the capacity of public institutions to deliver basic services, including in areas such as housing, health, education, water and sanitation, and electricity supply. The lack of salary payments to those employed by the Gaza authorities since 2007 has had a direct impact on the living conditions of these families.

Gaps in funding and capacity have also had a negative impact on national institutions and the level of preparedness to respond to emergencies, with particular implications for the humanitarian agencies operating in the Gaza Strip. The following are some of the main related concerns:

First responders: All institutions providing immediate assistance during emergencies, namely natural disasters or hostilities have been negatively affected by the internal split. However, because of its pivotal role in emergencies, the impact on the Palestinian Civil Defense (PCD) has been particularly detrimental. Since its formation in 2014, the GNC has not provided any financial, administrative or logistical support to the PCD, including fuel supplies to run emergency facilities and equipment. At present, only about 60 per cent of PCD fuel needs are covered by allocations from the Gaza authorities. Critical funding and capacity gaps are compounded by Israeli restrictions on the import of materials, equipment and vehicles (see section below on Flood preparedness) and the damage sustained by PCD work stations and equipment during the previous three armed conflicts. Because it is operating with only partially rehabilitated equipment, the PCD’s current capacity is estimated at less than 45 per cent of its full potential capacity.

Delivery of humanitarian assistance: the internal divide has undermined a range of strategic partnerships between humanitarian actors and line ministries, with direct on the delivery of aid. For example, the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA) has traditionally been one of the most important partners for humanitarian agencies in areas such the provision of emergency assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), food and cash assistance and child protection. The ministry suffers from major funding and capacity constraints, including the inability to mobilize field workers for regular follow-up, beneficiary identification or in case of emergency due to the salary crisis and logistical gaps.

Energy supply: The operation of Gaza’s sole power plant (GPP) is permanently undermined by the lack of funds to purchase fuel. The Gaza authorities face problems in collecting electricity payments from customers due to the poor socio-economic circumstances, a situation compounded by a long-running dispute between Gaza and Ramallah about taxation on fuel purchased for the GPP. While a tax exemption has been provided regularly by the West Bank-based Ministry of Finance, this has to be continuously renegotiated and there have been periods where the exception did not apply, thus reducing the volume of fuel that could be purchased. Recurrent fuel shortages caused by a range of factors, including the internal divide, have left the GPP unable to operate at full capacity. On occasions it has been forced to shut down completely, leading to power outages of up to 18 hours a day. OCHA and UNRWA are required to coordinate and distribute emergency fuel to ensure the continuous operation of 130 critical facilities providing health, water and municipal services, primarily through backup generators. Since December 2013, at least nine million litres of fuel have been delivered in this context.