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Source: Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
31 December 2013

December witnessed one of the strongest winter storms to strike the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in recent decades. The extreme weather conditions, which lasted for four consecutive days, exacerbated already fragile living conditions and livelihoods among large segments of the Palestinian population.

The agriculture sector was one of the hardest hit. The storm resulted in widespread damage across the oPt, especially to greenhouses and animal shelters, as well as in production losses, altogether estimated at US$69 million. There are serious concerns that these losses may have increased food insecurity, which prior to the storm already affected over a third of Palestinian households - approximately 1.6 million people.

In the Gaza Strip, the torrential rains put severe pressure on the water infrastructure system, already strained by long overdue repairs and upgrades, as well as by the shortage of electricity and fuel used to operate backup generators. The latter has been compounded since June 2013, following the closure of tunnels, through which subsidized fuel from Egypt had been smuggled. Low-lying areas across Gaza were flooded, resulting in the temporary evacuation of some 10,000 people, alongside damage to around 21,000 homes.

Many Palestinian communities across Area C of the West Bank, particularly herders and Bedouins, were also disproportionately impacted by the storm due to the precarious nature of their housing and animal shelters. This vulnerability is also related to the inadequate planning system implemented by the Israeli authorities, which prevents residents from adequately meeting their housing and livelihood needs due to their inability to obtain an Israeli-issued building permit, and results in the demolition of their structures. Over 800 people were forcibly displaced during 2013 in Area C, as a result of these demolitions.A positive development related to the latter took place during the reporting period, as the Israeli authorities advanced five planning schemes for Palestinian communities in Area C to the final approval stage. These plans, which were developed by the communities in question, would allow residents to build legally and develop public infrastructure. Another 30 similar plans were submitted to the Israeli authorities in the past three years and are under consideration. While the approval of these plans will be a welcome step, they will leave most communities in Area C at risk of demolition and displacement.

An additional concern related to Area C is the access restrictions to agricultural land in the vicinity of Israeli settlements and between the Barrier and the Green Line. These restrictions are particularly acute during the olive harvest season, a key economic, social and cultural event, which came to an end in December. While this season witnessed fewer Israeli settler attacks on Palestinian farmers and their property than during the previous season, throughout the year more than 10,000 olive trees were vandalized by settlers, mostly prior to the start of the season, an over 20 percent increase from last year.

Over the course of the storm and its aftermath, the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza, supported by United Nations (UN) agencies and non-governmental organizations (NG0s), as well as by the Israeli authorities, responded in a coordinated manner to the most urgent needs in affected areas. However, the storm highlighted significant structural gaps, which require policy changes to be addressed. These changes include, among others, the removal of the restrictions on the import of building materials to the Gaza Strip, required to repair and upgrade critical infrastructures, and the halt to demolitions and displacement in Area C of the West Bank. Implementation of these policy changes by the Israeli authorities could have an enormous positive impact on the everyday lives of vulnerable Palestinian populations.

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