Gaza Emergency Response
The latest escalation of hostilities between Israel and Gaza (8 July-26 August 2014) caused unprecedented damage and destruction in Gaza. During the hostilities, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) employed over 5,085 airstrikes, 8,210 missiles, 15,736 naval projectiles and 36,718 land projectiles. In addition, armed groups in Gaza fired approximately 4,584 rockets and 1,676 mortars toward Israel, a portion of which fell short and landed within Gaza. As a result, at least 1,563 Palestinian civilians were killed, over 11,100 were injured, and nearly half a million were displaced, more than a quarter of the population. In the fighting, over 22,000 housing units were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable, and more than 113,000 homes – 13% of the housing stock in Gaza – were impacted. Furthermore, 17 of Gaza’s 32 hospitals reported damage and six closed; four of Gaza’s 97 primary health clinics were completely destroyed, and another 42 were damaged, resulting in at least 17 closures. The escalation of hostilities led to the total destruction of 26 of Gaza’s schools and caused damage to 122 more, including more than 80 United Nations Relief and Work Agency schools. Economic activity was significantly impacted, with 419 businesses and workshops damaged and 128 completely destroyed. This destruction added to the existing damage from previous conflicts and exacerbated the already dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza strip, further degrading already inadequate sanitation capacity, increasing food insecurity, and drastically reducing access to healthcare. Moreover, with an estimated 10% failure rate of munitions used in the conflict, there are an estimated 7,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW) buried in the rubble, representing a significantly higher level of contamination than in previous conflicts. The presence of thousands of ERWs threatens the lives and physical integrity of the population, impedes urgent humanitarian response and reconstruction efforts, and inhibits economic activity and the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs).
In response to the humanitarian crisis that was unfolding in Gaza, on 23 July 2014, the United Nations Secretary-General directed “the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) to immediately develop and implement an effective security plan for the safe and secure handling of any weapons discovered in UN premises” along with the United Nations Department of Security Services (UNDSS). The United Nations Secretary-General directed UNMAS to “immediately deploy personnel with expertise to deal with this situation.” In response to his call to action, UNMAS deployed to Gaza on 27 July 2014 as part of the first of a three-phased response to meet emergency humanitarian needs arising from ERW contamination and other explosive hazards in Gaza. The UNMAS three-phased response plan includes: (A) preliminary assessments and immediate threat mitigation measures; (B) survey and clearance of ERW and other explosive hazards and risk education for populations determined to be at-risk; and (C) systematic survey and clearance operations in support of reconstruction efforts. When the United Nations launched its Gaza Crisis Appeal on 9 September 2014, the UNMAS intervention was deemed critical for addressing the immediate humanitarian threat to the civilian population and facilitating the reconstruction of Gaza. UNMAS operates in Gaza under UNRWA’s umbrella. The UNMAS Gaza team provides technical advice and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) support to UNRWA and UN agencies to enable ERW risk assessments and clearance in order to allow safe emergency response and reconstruction efforts. In addition, UNMAS is responsible for task planning, prioritization, and coordination of tasks requested by, or through, UN agencies. Of paramount importance is the responsibility for ensuring that the ERW clearance capacity works in an effective, safe, and time-efficient manner in accordance with International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) and International Ammunition Technical Guidelines (IATGs).
UNMAS Experience in Gaza
UNMAS deployed to Gaza in the aftermath of operation Cast Lead in 2009, following a request by the UN Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) to address the urgent humanitarian threat posed ERW. Within 10 days of the ceasefire, UNMAS had facilitated the opening of 37 schools, Gaza’s six main routes and key UN offices and warehouses. Within six weeks, all UN facilities, affected schools and hospitals and the majority of clinics had been surveyed and all ERW removed.
UNMAS also provided an emergency response following operation Pillars of Defence (2012), which included the development of an ERW risk education package with UNRWA and UNICEF that was rolled out in Gaza through teachers in UNRWA and government schools with training provided by UNMAS. UNMAS also produced 10 child-friendly ERW awareness videos in 2013 that have been broadcast on UNRWA TV [click here to view]throughout 2014, including during the current conflict.
On completion of core humanitarian tasks in Gaza by March 2013, UNMAS ‘mothballed’ its Gaza office, while maintaining resources there to ensure operational readiness in the event of future crises. As such, UNMAS was ideally placed to respond when conflict broke out on 7 July 2014. A contingency plan was immediately drafted outlining a provisional UNMAS response to operation Protective Edge, upon which the current response has been developed.
With this essential context-specific experience and UNMAS’ technical expertise, the Secretary-General called upon UNMAS on 23 July to support the UN in Gaza.
Progress and Achievements – Emergency and Early Recovery
In its survey and clearance work to date, UNMAS has destroyed thousands of ERWs. During the emergency response phase of its intervention in Gaza, UNMAS surveyed and cleared 214 sites at the request of United Nations entities to allow humanitarian assistance programmes to proceed safely and efficiently. In the immediate aftermath of the conflict, UNMAS surveyed and cleared key infrastructure sites that had been damaged or destroyed to ensure that humanitarian and socioeconomic activities could resume quickly, including the Rafah Crossing and the Gaza power plant. UNMAS cleared all UNRWA schools and 21 Palestinian Authority schools, allowing more than 250,000 children to return to school after the end of the hostilities. UNMAS provided ERW risk education for 5,300 UN staff, humanitarian workers, IDPs, UNRWA teachers, engineers, construction workers, and other at-risk populations. UNMAS has helped raise awareness about ERW hazards by handing out 22,500 ERW alert flyers and booklets to the civilian population living and working in areas contaminated by ERW. UNMAS launched an ERW risk education training-of-trainers programme for 1,200 teachers at UNRWA schools, who, once they complete their
Of the estimated 90 minefields in the West Bank, 78 are located along the border with Jordan, in areas mostly inaccessible to Palestinians; and 11 are situated in the more ‘central areas’ of the West Bank in the governorates of Jenin, Tulkarm, Qalqiliya, Bethlehem and Hebron. These 11 sites were prioritized for clearance as, in addition to posing a risk to lives and limbs, they undermine the socio-economic development and livelihoods of Palestinian communities: they are all located in or in close proximity to inhabited areas; mostly on privately-owned fertile agricultural and grazing land, or along roads used daily by communities; and are either poorly marked or not marked at all, yet accessible to the population – and in some cases even cultivated. These minefields were laid by Jordan in the 1960’s. They are largely located in areas under full Israeli control; hence clearance operations must be coordinated with the Israeli Government.
UNMAS has been a catalyst to humanitarian mine action in Palestine, both at policy and operational levels. With UNMAS support, in April 2012 the Ministry of Interior created the Palestinian Mine Action Center (PMAC). UNMAS has built the capacity of the PMAC to coordinate mine action from day one. Also, the Palestinian government is reporting on a voluntary basis to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention on its compliance with the treaty requirements.
Over two years, UNMAS worked toward consensus among all relevant Israeli, Palestinian and international stakeholders regarding a modus operandi for clearance operations in the central West Bank, and for Israel to authorize demining. As a result, in September 2013, the Israeli National Mine Action Authority (INMAA) gave the formal authorization for the HALO Trust to clear two of the 11 minefields deemed high priority by the PMAC. Demining started on 2 April 2014 at Nabi Elyas in Qalqiliya governorate.
UNMAS is also working to minimize the threat of mines and explosive ordnance by training and providing awareness materials to the PMAC forrisk education activities; and helping the PMAC to map the existing services and victim assistance needs, as well as to establish a strategy in this area.
Updated March 2015