Ireland is a longstanding and steadfast supporter of the Palestinian people and of a two-State solution. In 2018, we provided €15.38 million in development and humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of the most vulnerable Palestinian men, women and children, including in Gaza. This was our highest level of funding ever.
In the Tánaiste's recent visits to the region, he has witnessed first-hand the increasingly fragile humanitarian situation on the ground and the daily challenges for the Gazan people. The ongoing Gaza blockade and recurrent outbreaks of hostilities have eroded basic infrastructure, service delivery, livelihoods and coping mechanisms. It is clear that humanitarian needs in Gaza are critical and that all key services, particularly the health service, are under severe strain.
Ireland has responded to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, including in Gaza, for many years. Our funding is channelled primarily through UN and multi-lateral partners. In 2018, we significantly increased our funding to the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), providing an overall contribution of €9 million, so that they could continue to provide basic services such as food aid, education and health to some 5.3 million registered Palestine refugees, 1.4 million of whom are in Gaza. This was an increase of €3.5 million on their 2017 allocation.
We also provided €500,000 in 2018 to support the work of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory. This included €300,000 for the OCHA-managed Humanitarian Fund. This is used to support the emergency response operations of NGOs and UN agencies. In 2018, over 80% of the oPt Humanitarian Fund addressed urgent needs in Gaza. The fund also played a particularly important role in the international response to the injuries suffered by thousands of Gaza residents during the “Great March of Return” protests last year.
In 2019, Ireland is committed to increasing our support to the Palestinian people. We are working with the Palestinian Water Authority on the delivery of solar energy in Gaza to help alleviate the critical shortage of power there. This power shortage is crippling the Gazan economy and makes daily life and any form of economic activity very difficult and is one of the factors contributing to political instability.
We are also expanding our programme of scholarships for Palestinian students with the recent launch of the Ireland-Palestine Scholarship Programme. This new dedicated programme will offer over twenty full scholarships this year to Palestinian students, including in Gaza, to study a wide variety of Master’s level courses in higher education institutions in Ireland. Improving the opportunities for young Palestinians to access quality education has been a priority for Ireland in our work in Palestine for many years.
Issues related to the situation in Palestine, including the humanitarian situation in Gaza, are regularly discussed with our EU partners. The EU and its Member States are the largest contributors of assistance to the Palestinian people. Ireland will continue to press, at EU level and elsewhere, to maintain focus on the humanitarian needs in Gaza and for an end to the continuing blockade. In the meantime, we will continue to offer the humanitarian support which is essential in addressing the ongoing basic and emergency needs of people in Gaza.