Gaza Strip – Inter-Agency Contingency Planning for Humanitarian Assistance (15 Aug. 2005) – OCHA working document






Working Document

Last update

15 August 2005


This document lays out a set of planning assumptions, objectives and responses among the United Nations agencies in response to the possible humanitarian consequences linked to the Israeli disengagement from the 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip.

The aim of this process was to improve the response capacity of UN agencies in the Gaza Strip in light of the sharply deteriorating situation during 2004 that was predicted to continue. Events changed in early 2005. The level of conflict declined following the election of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian President and the subsequent Palestinian-Israeli declarations at Sharm el Sheikh on 9 February. Nevertheless, previous peace initiatives such as the 2003 hudna have collapsed in the past with violence resuming at increased levels. For this reason, and in spite of the optimism surrounding recent political developments, contingency planning has been required to consider a number of negative possibilities.


In December 2003, Prime Minister Sharon announced his intention to withdraw Israeli military forces and civilians from 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank. This was to be a unilateral move on the part of the Israeli government without the participation of the Palestinian Authority.

Since the death of Yasser Arafat on 11 November 2004, there has been renewed effort on the part of the international community to revive political dialogue between the Palestinians and Israelis. Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian Authority on 9 January. The number of Palestinians and Israelis killed and injured has dropped sharply since the Sharm El Sheikh meeting.

This reduction in violence however should be seen in the context of a marked deterioration in the humanitarian situation for the 1.4 million people living in Gaza. A tight closure regime has existed within and around the 365 km2 Gaza Strip since the start of the conflict in September 2000 which was further tightened during 2004 preventing Palestinians from reaching jobs and services. Coping mechanisms have steadily declined as savings have been exhausted and assets sold.

Disengagement will remove the tight restrictions on movement faced by the communities living in enclaves surrounded by Israeli settlements – Al Mawasi, Al Ma’ani and As Siafa. Similarly, the dismantlement of Abu Houli check point in the middle of Gaza and the opening of Nezarim junction on Salah el Din street will allow for the unrestricted movement of vehicles between northern, central and southern Gaza.

However, according to the World Bank, disengagement from the Gaza settlements is predicted to have little impact on Palestinian economic prospects without the opening of external borders – preconditions for normal economic activity – and an additional $1.5 billion from donors over the following three years. Even with these changes both unemployment and poverty would still be significantly above pre-2000 levels by the end of 2006.


The process of disengagement in of itself – the evacuation of settlers from 21 Israeli settlements inside the Gaza Strip – is expected to generate little additional humanitarian needs. There are no new populations, communities will remain in their homes and services are already available. Instead the humanitarian situation will be determined by the range and dynamic of scenarios that play out between best and worst case projections. In broad terms these are:

3.1. Best Case Outcome

• No hostilities between Israeli forces and settlers;
• Limited and isolated incidents between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants;
• Time period of disengagement is short – around four weeks;
• Internal closures at Abu Holi, Beach road, Morag-Sufa junction and curfews inside the three enclaves will be minimal;
• Humanitarian access to the closed areas will be possible with prior coordination;
• External crossing points remain open – Erez, Karni and Rafah;
• PA takes control of evacuated settlements and IDF positions in an orderly manner.
• Effective security control maintained by PA security forces.

3.2. Worst Case Outcome

• Sustained clashes between Palestinian militant groups and the IDF;
• Prolonged internal and external closures with humanitarian access denied in all but the most urgent cases;
• Israeli forces move into PA controlled areas of Khan Yunis, Rafah and north-east Gaza;
• Resumption and escalation of Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the West Bank;
• Uncoordinated rush of Palestinians into newly evacuated settlements and former IDF positions
• Breakdown of law and order within Gaza and clashes between Palestinian groups

Contingencies are listed in the tables below, each subdivided into a range of scenarios. Alongside each scenario, the humanitarian impact is estimated based on previous experience, particularly in relation to the incursions that took place in 2004 in Rafah (May), Beit Hanoun (July) and Jaballia (October). These figures remain, however, estimates.

3.3. Early Warning Indicators (ranging from)

Early signs that may indicate a change in the current situation include:

• Increased firing of rockets into Israel and targeting of IDF remaining in Philidelphi.
• incremental moves by the Israeli military in response or otherwise to perceived threats – IAF over flights, helicopters over populated areas, small armoured incursions into Rafah;
• isolated shootings and road side bombs that no Palestinian group is prepared to claim;
• segmentation of the GS at the Coastal road, Abu Houli and Sufa-Morag junction;
• settler resistance to the evacuation proves greater and more prolonged than anticipated leading to sustained closure over numerous Palestinian communities;
• Palestinian security forces are unwilling or unable to control those areas adjacent to the IDF imposed Closed Military Zones (CMZ) leading to ever increasing clashes;
• leaflets and demonstrations disclosing changing Palestinian mood and attitudes;
• violence between Palestinian groups / security services
• Israeli government suspends all contact with the Palestinian leadership following large Hamas gains in the PLC elections throwing Fatah into turmoil;

3.4. Main Actors

Gaza based agencies have a wealth of experience in relief, transitional and developmental programmes. These include:

• Palestinian state institutions including the PA Ministries, municipalities and governorates;
• United Nations, including active organizations with fulltime UN officers living in the GS, UNRWA, UNOCHA, UNICEF, WHO, UNDP, UNFPA and WFP.
• International and national NGOs. As the PA did not arrive until 1994, the Palestinian NGOs have been a major service provider since the late 1970s eg Medical Relief Services and the Health Work Committees;
• Red cross movement as represented by the ICRC and the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS)

The PA has considerable experience in responding to emergency situations over the course of the last four years, particularly the Ministry of Health which has undertaken an active policy of resource decentralisation in response to movement restrictions.

The PA has consistently welcomed support from international agencies and in particular UNRWA, the principal service provider in terms of primary health, education and welfare services to the majority of the Gazan population. UNRWA has been at the forefront in responding to the IDF incursions into Gaza and has relief supplies including food, blankets, mattresses and kitchen utensils decentralised throughout the Strip. UNICEF and WFP have adopted a similar decentralisation policy

3.5. Major Gaps and Constraints

Access is likely to be the principal constraint for UN agencies and NGOs implementing humanitarian programmes during the course of disengagement as has been the experience of international organisations since the end of 2000.

The UN has met on a number of occasions with the IDF in Gaza to discuss disengagement. The UN has stressed that:

• its activities will continue throughout disengagement
• services and distributions will also proceed – stocks are being pre-positioned and decentralised

UN agencies have emphasised to the IDF:

• the continuation of regular coordination mechanisms to deliver humanitarian supplies and services.
• That a robust mechanism for emergencies and periods of conflict be established, based on the experience during incursions of 2004, including contact names and dedicated communications between IDF and humanitarian agencies.

3.6. Key Planning Assumptions

• In the absence of hostilities noted in the scenarios above the UN does not anticipate a major rise in humanitarian needs associated with disengagement as no additional populations or needs will be forthcoming;
• Internal closure will be imposed over the Gaza Strip during a part of the disengagement. Access coordinated with the IDF will be possible for humanitarian agencies, if required. (Precedent. Beit Hanoun, July 2004);
•  the main population centres will be able to function as normal in terms of commercial activity, with the tight closure only affecting those adjacent to the evacuation;
• pre positioning and decentralisation of supplies will have taken place by key UN agencies;
• in the event of a major breakdown of public order in the PA, the UN security level may be raised to phase IV limiting UN personnel movement;
• In the event of major IDF incursions, access to the affected area(s) will be denied for the first 2-3 days, but will be possible with coordination thereafter.


4.1. Existing Coordination Structures

The principal coordination forum for UN and international agencies working in Gaza is the Operational Coordination Group (OCG) that has been established since 2002. The OCG is chaired by the UNRWA Field Director with OCHA acting as the Secretariat and is open to UN agencies, national and international NGOs, the Red Cross/Crescent movement and the PA.

Meetings normally take place on average every 4 weeks or more frequently as needs require.  Through the forum of the OCG, sectoral committees known as the Emergency Rooms were established from August 2003 that brought together UN agencies and PA Ministries. These were activated during the Rafah incursions of October 2003 and May 2004 and functioned effectively in the food and health sectors.

4.2. Operations Room

At end of June a request was made by the Task Force on Project Implementation (TFPI) for a Gaza Operations Room to be established for the period of the disengagement. It will build on the current security functions of Gaza UNRWA radio room. It is designed to increase the capacity of the Gaza Field Security Coordination Officer (FSCO) to deal with additional information requests from the international community especially from donors and NGOs.

It will also include a humanitarian coordination capacity alongside the security functions consisting of additional staff – primarily OCHA and UNRWA – who will maintain contacts throughout the Gaza Strip although relying heavily on the UNRWA Area Operations Assistants (AOA). A constant source of humanitarian information is envisaged that maintain a close eye on the situation. Regular OCHA humanitarian updates will be issued on the basis of this information.  Where a humanitarian response is required, it will proceed on a similar basis to the pattern established throughout last year. URWRA (through the OSO teams) will organise the UNRWA response and OCHA will ensure coordination amongst the other UN agencies, NGOs while also maintaining links with the municipal authorities affected.

In this way, both information and the response to affected people will occur that ensures that:

o the humanitarian response is coordinated and appropriate amongst all agencies,
o clearances for operations from the IDF are also coordinated together and not individually
o any operation proceeds with DSS security knowledge and clearance

Additional discussions have taken place involving members of USAID, UNRWA, OCHA and the DSS to increase operational capacity of the operations room.

Through the proposed “hotline” security information – and where appropriate – humanitarian information utilising the field updates will be shared to all interested parties via the existing DSS email, SMS text and a blog website.

4.3. Immediate Response Mechanisms

Response will closely follow the pattern that has been established during emergency responses over the past 3-4 years.

• At first indications of an unusual event, staff from UN offices will immediately contact a wide variety of familiar partners scattered throughout the strip to collect as much "on the spot'' information as possible;
• OCHA in consultation with UNRWA will convene a meeting of the UN Heads of Office based in Gaza in response to a deteriorating humanitarian situation. Agencies will draw upon available information sources from sectoral and/or geographical contacts;
• If security permits, an inter agency fact finding mission will take place. The experience of the 2004 IDF incursions however, was that access was not possible into the directly affected areas in the first 2-3 days, either because the level of fighting was too intense or the IDF could not guarantee safe coordinated passage;
• Consequently early needs assessments may have to be identified on the basis of contacts in affected areas i.e., UNRWA, municipal leaders, PRCS and local NGOS;
• UN sector leads will initiate meetings with partners and interlocutors for the purpose of gathering and sharing information while gaining agreement on the appropriateness of the coordinated response;
• Sector leads will feed back available information to OCHA who will then distribute it via its website and mailing list to ensure the immediate needs are highlighted. This process will continue every three to four days, or as needs require.

4.4. Roles and Responsibilities of the Agencies – Sector Overview

Coordination of UN humanitarian operations will be done on a sectoral basis that will incorporate local knowledge and resources via the PA and municipalities, as well as local and international NGOs. The primary objective of the response will be to address humanitarian needs via complementary activities that draw on agencies particular skills and experience.

The international NGOs working are represented via the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA). The group in spite of its name, incorporates both relief and development agencies and meets in Gaza every one to two months. A number of UN agencies – WHO, UNICEF, WFP and OCHA is normally invited to attend so providing a useful opportunity for information sharing. A representative will normally be present from the coordination forum for Palestinian Non-Governmental Organisations (PNGO).

Since December 2003 a monthly health emergency coordination meeting takes place, organised by Health Inforum and chaired by WHO and the Ministry of Health. UN agencies, international organizations including ICRC and local NGOs regularly participate at the meetings. Ad hoc meetings have also been organized during acute crises. These meetings have been the main forum for sharing information and coordinating the health sector response to the crisis.

Since the beginning of July regular meetings have taken place in Gaza in the health, education and psychosocial sectors and have brought in representatives of the UN, national and international NGOs, ICRC and the PA. These meetings are focused on the disengagement and are essentially aimed at information sharing and resource preparedness.

4.5. Information Management

OCHA will be the focal point for the dissemination of humanitarian information. This role was assumed by OCHA during the three large Gaza incursions last year and focused on sectoral needs. Inputs for these reports came from field visits as security allowed, UN agencies, the PA, municipalities, NGOs, PRCS and the ICRC. There was a willingness on the part of agencies to contribute and share information for inclusion in the updates during the 2004 incursions and for this reason there were seen as providing an accurate reflection of needs on the ground.

Information will be compiled over a one, two or four day period and issued as a Situation Update on the OCHA mailing list and website to donors, embassies, Palestinian and Israeli government agencies, journalists, national and international aid organisations.


5.1. Intervention

Based on general response mechanisms and strategies as outlined above and in the 2005 CAP, overall UN response will coordinated through OCHA / UNRWA Gaza. Each sector will have a UN lead agency to coordinate response for that sector.

The intervention will immediately begin with an emergency meeting by Gaza UN Heads of Office, then 1) Immediate multi-sector assessment and identification of those in need, including calls to partners and an on the ground assessment mission. 2) The provision of immediate on-hand stocks of humanitarian aid to those groups who are most vulnerable. 3) Reporting and information sharing to the larger UN and humanitarian community outside Gaza.

5.2. Role of UN assistance

The fact that the overwhelming majority of the Gaza population are refugees ensures a constant demand on resources. Although the PA is the governmental body within Gaza, funding shortages, security and severe economic stress have created a need for specific and well targeted UN assistance in the planning and initial response to a crisis. The UN in consultation with UNRWA will provide a lead agency in each major humanitarian sector to help coordinate the response. a) Health – WHO, b) Access – OCHA c) Education – UNICEF d) Child protection –UNICEF, e) Food – WFP, f) WatSan – UNICEF g) Psychosocial – UNICEF.

After the response and resolution of a crisis, the emergency phase returns to the longer-term programme commitments.

5.3. Objectives of Intervention

The UN and partner's agencies have a long history of identifying the specifically affected groups in an incursion, area of conflict or other associated crisis within Gaza. Therefore, the objectives are to identify the extent and type of crisis and provide the appropriate life saving interventions, in a well-coordinated and rapid fashion. Thereafter, agencies report on activities and make requests for the next level of subsequent humanitarian action, if needed.

6. SECTOR AND AGENCY RESPONSE PLANS (see matrices in annex)

UN agencies have pre-positioned supplies throughout Gaza, while undertaking Inter Agency needs assessments (UNICEF, WFP, WHO and OCHA) of those isolated areas likely to be affected by Israeli imposed closures associated with the withdrawal. It is anticipated that trade will continue in the main population centres outside of Gaza city with the closure affecting those Palestinian populations directly next to the settlements.

6.1. Food

UNRWA has food stocks pre-positioned in north, central and southern Gaza for emergency and regular programmes that currently total 20,000 metric tons. Following an agreement with the IDF at the end of February, UNRWA has now been able to transfer over 600 containers from Ashdod port into Gaza through Sufa and Karni crossings.

Over the course of July, UNRWA undertook a double food distribution in Al Mawasi, to ensure families have sufficient supplies during the anticipated shut down. Earlier distributions took place in As Siafa and Al Ma’ani. Similarly, distributions have recently taken place among isolated communities to the south of Nezarim settlement – Juhor ad Dik and Mughraqa and also to families living south of the Qissufim road. As this road will serve as the main evacuation route for settlers and IDF from Gush Katif, closures can be expected in the adjacent Palestinian communities.

It is necessary to point out that food can not generally be stockpiled for lengthy periods of time due to its perishable nature, particularly so during the Gaza summer months with high temperatures and humidity.

WFP has a number of implementing partners including the Ministry of Social Affairs and both national and international NGOs. WFP and its implementing partners also have a network of warehouses throughout the Gaza Strip however, in contrast to UNRWA there is a greater reliance for the provision of bread on local mill production. The available wheat stock at the four local mills contracted to WFP currently stands at approximately 6,000 metric tons (MT) with a further 3,000 MT of different food commodities in the WFP warehouse and those of its main implementing partners (total 9,000 MT).

In July, WFP carried out a double food distribution among the non-refugee Palestinian community living in Al Mawasi totalling over 250 MT. In the event of a deteriorating humanitarian situation accompanying the disengagement, WFP will call upon its Vulnerability, Analysis and Mapping Unit (VAM) to undertake a rapid assessment to determine the number of beneficiaries to be assisted based on needs.

6.2. Health

Both the Ministry of Health and UNRWA have decentralised medicines, consumables and equipment over the course of the last four years. Primary health care is provided throughout the Gaza Strip by the Ministry of Health and UNRWA. The Ministry which is the largest health service provider has 54 primary health care facilities and 11 hospitals. 20 health care facilities throughout the Strip have recently been classified as “emergency points” and will provide 24 hour coverage during the disengagement period.

Three month emergency stocks are pre-positioned at all Ministry of Health facilities including the two clinics in Al Mawasi, with two month stocks available at the 17 primary health care centres and pharmacies operated by UNRWA. All but one UNRWA health centre has generators in the event of a power failure.

The principal concern of international agencies remains the ability of patients to access secondary health care in the event of a prolonged shut down of the type expected in the Mawasi, Siafa and Al Ma’ani enclaves. Given the size of the Palestinian population in Al Mawasi and the absence of secondary health care facilities, the PRCS clinic has recently been upgraded to a triage centre to allow stabilisation of more critical patients before evacuation out of the enclave.

Reassurances have been sought through the Israeli DCL that emergency access will be provided through Tel es Sultan check point in the case of Al Mawasi and the northern settlement block if emergencies arise in Siafa. The DCL has repeatedly stated that the coordination of ambulances will be facilitated in such instances.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) currently operates 66 ambulances in Gaza. The fleet is distributed between the 5 districts and redeployed as required. Each district has 3 ICU ambulances. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) operates 40 ambulances located in six ambulance stations, one in each district and one sub-station in Al Mawasi. PRCS can be directly reached through dialling 101 which will coordinate with the MoH ambulance service. In times of acute crises generated by large scale IDF incursions, coordination on behalf of the PRCS will normally be required by the ICRC. The Israeli DCL has recently allowed the PRCS to deploy an additional two ambulances to the substation in Al Mawasi, so providing a total of three vehicles. Medecins du Monde (MDM) and Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) will bring in additional international staff to coincide with the disengagement. MDM will bring in three emergency doctors to be based south of Gaza city while MSF will appoint a vascular surgeon to Abu Yusef Najar hospital in Rafah.

6.3. Education

Education has now become a cause for concern under the revised disengagement timetable which is expected to take place from 15 August and will clearly impact upon a number of Palestinian children as they return to their class rooms in early September. While most children will be able to get to their local schools in spite of anticipated closures of the Strip into three and possibly four sectors, this will not be the case for those living in the Al Ma’ani and Siafa who need to reach schools situated outside of the enclaves.

UNICEF over the course of recent weeks has been preparing for such a contingency by prepositioning “school in a box” kits and remedial education material at the district level that includes Al Mawasi, Al Ma’ani and Siafa and those other areas adjacent to the Qissufim road. By the end of July, 390 “school in a boxes” had been pre-positioned throughout Gaza with each kit containing basic stationary items for 80 students and learning materials for teachers.

6.4. Psychosocial/Child Protection

Concern exists among international agencies over the psychological damage inflicted upon Palestinian children after nearly five years of conflict. With the pending disengagement both local and international organisations have been increasing their response capacity:

• the Gaza Community Mental Programme (GCMHP) will have three emergency teams in Khan Younis, Deir el Balah and Gaza city with 10 members each. The GCMHP will liase with MSF if access is required into any of the enclaves;
• UNRWA will recruit 94 new counsellors in addition to the 160 existing ones. Counsellors will conduct home visits and provide individual and group counselling with a specific focus on the border areas, enclaves and areas around the settlements;
• UNICEF in conjunction with Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) has five child protection teams are ready to provide psychosocial support in cases of emergency. New members have been trained in preparation for the disengagement and additional resources made available.

6.5. Water

Hundreds of basic family water kits have been distributed throughout Gaza by UNICEF including 120 inside Al Mawasi. In addition, UNICEF has provided five 5000 litre collapsible water tanks at separate locations throughout the Strip including one in As Siafa. The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) have recently distributed 2000 plastic water tanks (capacity 1m3) in the north of Gaza.

The mechanisms for the monitoring of the water situation in 10 vulnerable areas throughout Gaza have recently been established by the Palestinian Hydrology Group (PHG) coming into effect from 15 July in consultation with OXFAM.


• Identification and monitoring of early warning indicators – UNRWA, DSS and UNSCO have extensive information networks throughout Israel and the oPt for political and security related issues. UNICEF, WHO and WFP have extensive field level contacts for collection of information from individuals and local NGOs in reference to a variety of sectors;
• Interagency workshop to present and discuss the Contingency Plan to key UN staff with a similar approach to key NGOs;
• As a means to increasing cooperation and professionalism on emergency planning for the future of the state, close liaison should take place with the relevant PA Ministries on the process and outcomes of the interagency Contingency Plan;
• Review and update the Plan every four months, or as required.


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