Ongoing UNRWA construction projects in the Gaza Strip provide vital employment opportunities within a depressed economy

In addition to early recovery and rebuilding efforts in Gaza, humanitarian actors continue to implement construction and infrastructure projects unrelated to the most recent conflict. UNRWA’s construction of schools and health clinics is part of its ongoing operations to assist and serve Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip. The total value of UNRWA infrastructure projects approved by the Israeli Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (CoGAT) totals US$194.4 million since May 20145 – excluding post-conflict shelter repair and (re)construction under the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM).

UNRWA has recently completed two schools in Rafah and Khan Yunis in the southern part of Gaza. In Rafah, an existing small school was replaced with a new 32-classroom structure in February, and in Khan Yunis a new 26-classroom school was completed. Almost 2,200 students will study in the new buildings. Recently completed projects include the construction of the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent-funded housing project in Khan Yunis, which includes 449 housing units, plus sewage, drainage, water and electricity systems. This project, together with the construction of schools, health centres, water and sewage networks and homes in the Rafah housing project funded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (through the Saudi Fund for Development), is an example of crucial investments in Gaza infrastructure and the generation of much-needed employment opportunities.

UNRWA as primary job provider in the construction sector

Employment opportunities are desperately needed in Gaza, where yearly average unemployment increased by 11 percentage points to total 43 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 – probably the highest in the world according to the World Bank.7 The figures for Palestine refugees in Gaza over the same time period are equally alarming at 44.1 per cent. Escalating unemployment rates are a direct result of the eight-year blockade on Gaza that has crippled the enclave’s trade-oriented economy and its capacity to create jobs, pushing the majority of the population into poverty and aid dependency. In the fourth quarter of 2014, UNRWA created 5,058 full time equivalent (FTE) jobs through its construction programme – an eleven-fold increase from the previous quarter.

The estimated expenditure for UNRWA-contracted construction projects in the first quarter of 2015 amounts to US$5.5 million and has created 1,615 FTEs. Due to funding disbursed by the Agency for self-help shelter repair under the GRM, an additional estimated 10,843 FTEs were created in the first three months of 2015. Hence, in total, UNRWA construction efforts have resulted in 12,457 FTEs in the first quarter of 2015, making the Agency the primary job provider in the construction sector.

* This article was contributed by UNRWA and originally appeared in OCHA’s April 2015 Humanitarian Bulletin.