UNICEF’s child focused, shock responsive, social protection
and cash assistance programme in the Gaza Strip
Some of the Gaza Strip’s most vulnerable families were already struggling with mounting debt and shortfalls in basic needs like food and healthcare when the escalation of the conflict in May last year damaged their homes. Some households still face challenges to repair their damaged houses caused by the May 2021 escalation, spending towards the repairs add to the burdens of impoverished households who are already economically struggling to make ends meet. The conflict impacted Iyad Taweel’s Deir al-Balah neighborhood, damaging windows, and doors in his home. The cement patches in this photo mark places where shrapnel hit his home.
The World Bank estimates that the May 2021 conflict has increased poverty to 59.3 per cent in 2021, 2.3 percentage points higher than the COVID-19 induced peak in 2020, and a 16.3 percentage point increase above the 2016-2017 values. This is over and above other driving factors such as high unemployment and deteriorating living conditions. The Palestine Ministry of Social Development’s National Cash Transfer Programme plans to provide quarterly cash transfers to many of these struggling families under their social protection programme, but this has been largely unfunded for over a year, leaving these families with very little support. The Gaza Strip is under a 15-year closure that prevents the regular movement of people and goods and severely retards the economy. That’s why UNICEF and its partners, the Palestinian Ministry of Social Development, and the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, are providing cash support to families with children who were affected by the escalation of hostilities in May 2021. Families with damaged homes or living in poverty are provided cash payments between NIS 370-1,320, depending on the number of children in the household.
 Humanitarian Needs Overview oPt 2021
Iyad’s family consists of 12 people, including two boys and three girls. He says that he has been able to buy fruit and vegetables, cooking staples, gas for cooking, school uniforms and supplies for his children and remedial classes for his 17-year-old son Mahmoud. “I am happy because the cash paid for my school fees and the family could buy chicken,” Mahmoud says of the cash support. Families often try to make ends meet by cutting back on protein and fresh fruit and vegetables or reducing meals altogether. Another coping mechanism is sending children to work, which can be dangerous for them, or marrying off girls to reduce costs.
Mahmoud Enar, 42, lives in Gaza City with his wife and seven children, five of whom are still in school. As a taxi driver, he only earns 15 NIS a day, or about USD $4.50. He has staggering debt of USD $13,000, accumulated in trying to meet his family’s food and other urgent needs. The absence of the National Cash Transfer Programme payments since early 2021, which was distributing social support to families in need, has meant that his debt just kept growing whilst anticipating that the programme will resume, and when shelling shattered windows in his home in May 2021, that too added to the family costs.
“We were not living a normal life,” says Mahmoud’s wife Heba. “We had no cooking gas, and we were cooking on a fire. We were not able to eat normally.” UNICEF’s cash grants intended to meet children’s needs allowed the family to purchase chicken and beef instead of cooking with chicken necks for protein. They also paid the children’s school costs, bought them winter clothes, and purchased a smart phone used by the entire family, but which allows the children to participate in e-learning in the COVID-19 pandemic. “Since the cash transfer programme, the family and children can eat normal food,” says their grateful mother.
UNICEF has conducted a review of the first phase of the project, where lessons learnt during this implementation of the project will be used to further strengthen the national social protection programme with the aim to make it more child focused and able to adjust and respond to future shocks, to inform future interventions and to feed into the next National Social Protection Strategy.