Researchers from Queen Margaret University (QMU), in collaboration with the United Nations for Relief and Works Agency of Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), recently conducted an R2HC-funded study in Gaza and Lebanon. The study looked into the preparedness and response of UNRWA to the Covid-19 pandemic and captures feedback from UNRWA staff along with the communities that UNRWA serves.
Over a period of 3 months, starting August 2020, 45 interviews were carried out in Lebanon and Gaza. Interviews were conducted with staff from the UNRWA Headquarters and the Health, Relief and Social Services as well as community members residing at selected camps in Gaza and Lebanon. In both countries, Palestinians rely almost entirely on the services and aid provided by UNRWA. Long before the Covid-19 pandemic, the majority of Palestinians had struggled to meet their daily needs, despite the continuous efforts of UNRWA. In many interviews, participants dwelled on their daily stressors, which included difficulties in securing an income during this crisis, which most considered as the greatest barrier to comply with lockdown regulations. For the majority of those who rely on daily paid jobs, loss of income combined with almost non-existent food supply and cash assistance is unsustainable and has pushed Palestinians further into social and economic despair throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. This is especially relevant to Palestinians residing in Lebanon.
Almost all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are living in severe hardship due to the multilayered crisis that the country is currently going through. Presently in Lebanon, the economy is suffering a total collapse as the local currency has plummeted by almost 80%. The lockdown measures implemented since 2020, in tandem with the disastrous explosion that took place in Beirut on August 4, 2020, have greatly worsened the livelihoods of the most vulnerable segments of Lebanese society. It is worth mentioning that the results of the latest vulnerability assessment that took place in 2015 showed that 65% of Palestinians residing in Lebanon lived below the poverty line and 56% of the community were unemployed. Having said that, researchers expected that the situation has only worsened for Palestinians in Lebanon since the 2015 survey. Therefore, it was not surprising to hear that Palestinians in Lebanon are finding it hard to cope with the economic effects of the pandemic.
This is not to say that the circumstances in Gaza are any less difficult. Palestinians in Gaza have been living in a context of occupation, enforced blockade that deprives its inhabitants from basic commodities, such as fuel, food and medicine. The Coronavirus pandemic has therefore added another layer of stress and exerted a negative impact on everyone living in the Strip. Women, girls and workers in the informal sector were the most affected. Increased levels of violence, due to home confinement, and worries, for not being able to meet basic needs, was reported amongst these segments of the population more than others.
Our research study helped gain a better understanding of what the Palestinian community is facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a team, we hope that our insights can help both UNRWA and other agencies alike provide more support to their beneficiaries.