Report, The Electronic Intifada, 6 March 2008
Palestinians stand inside their home in the Jabaliya refugee camp, damaged recently during an Israeli incursion and air strikes which left about 115 Palestinians dead in Gaza over five days.
JERUSALEM, 6 March (IRIN) - The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is "man-made" and worse than it has ever been since the Israeli occupation in 1967, a coalition of British organizations said in a new report released on 6 March, urging better regional cooperation and saying Hamas can no longer be ignored.
Entitled "A Humanitarian Implosion," the 16-page report details the various effects the Israeli-imposed blockade has had in the last nine months since the Hamas takeover of the enclave, and concluded that all aspects of life have been negatively affected, including healthcare, employment and education.
The agencies, such as CARE, Amnesty, Christian Aid, and Oxfam, quoted UN statistics showing that aid dependency has risen significantly.
While in 2006 some 60 percent of Gazans needed food aid, in 2008 that number rose to 80 percent, and is expected to increase.
In 1999, before the second intifada (Palestinian uprising against Israel's occupation), UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, provided food to some 16,000 families in the enclave, while now it and the World Food Programme distribute aid to over 1.1 million people.
The report said Gaza's economy has collapsed as a "majority of private businesses have shut down and 95 percent of Gaza's industrial operations are suspended." The restrictions on imports and exports were also the cause of failings in the agricultural sector.
"As a result of the blockade and collapse of the economy, there is little money to buy food and limited food to buy. Food prices are rising and wheat flour, baby milk and cooking oil are increasingly scarce," the report said.
The Gaza Strip suffers from power outages due to the Israeli air strike on the power plant in 2006 and the restrictions on fuel imports, affecting the plant's productivity and vital institutions like hospitals, which lack 60-70 percent of their diesel needs for generators. Power outages are also affecting the water supply to about 30 percent of Gaza's residents. About 40-50 million liters of sewage are pumped into the sea daily for the same reason.
The agencies also noted a drop in the percentage of patients allowed out of the Strip for medical treatment, adding that over 20 people have died since June 2007 as a result.
In a response issued to IRIN, the Israeli Ministry of Defense said some 90 percent of patients are able to leave for treatment, and Israel allows in all medication and other humanitarian supplies needed in spite of Palestinian rocket fire targeting crossing points. It insisted the amount of fuel it lets in is enough for humanitarian purposes, blamed Hamas for internal distribution problems and noted that it continues to supply electricity to Gaza.
"Israel has the right and duty to defend itself and its people," Neil Durkin of Amnesty International in London told IRIN, condemning rocket fire at Israeli towns. However, security concerns could not explain bans on basic imports or patient movement, he said.
The report concluded that the violence on all sides should cease, and Israel should end its power and fuel cuts to Gaza and open the borders. In the meantime Israel's definition of humanitarian aid should be extended to include items like cement and spare parts.
"We ask that the UK government and EU [European Union] put pressure on the government of Israel to ensure that emergency assistance essential to fulfilling fundamental human rights is never used as a bargaining tool to further political goals," the report said.
Finally, the groups called for an inclusive policy that would mean dialogue with Hamas, which rules Gaza but is shunned by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Israel and the US-led international Quartet.