The UN Humanitarian Plan of Action (PoA) was released in November 2002, more than two years after the conflict flared again in September 2000. The Plan of Action clearly stated the fundamental challenge facing the humanitarian community: without political solutions to lift the closures, curfews and other restrictions, relief efforts can have only a limited impact on the humanitarian situation.
These political decisions, however, did not materialise. Consequently, as this review illustrates, the humanitarian situation for people in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) continued to worsen since November 2002 when the Plan was launched.
The underlying dilemma before the humanitarian community continues to be either "finance the occupation" and relieve Israel - the occupying power - of its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention to cater for the needs of civilians, or discontinue relief efforts and insist on Israel's legal and binding obligations. With no willingness on the part of Israel to assume this responsibility and worsening economic situation, the international aid community was left with no option but to intervene.
The launch of the Plan was aimed at reinforcing existing relief programmes to reach the great majority of Palestinians through food, health, education, employment generation and agricultural production interventions. Together with the efforts of the Palestinian Authority (PA), bilateral donors and the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO), the Plan's activities helped to cushion the devastating impact of closures, recurrent military escalations and economic decline.
But the impact of relief efforts will always be limited. They cannot stem a further decline in the economic situation. As the World Bank study indicates, if aid contributions were doubled to around US$ 2 billion over 2003, poverty would shrink from only 60% to 52% of the population by the end of 2004.
The developments that followed the publication of the Plan in November 2002 generally followed the scenario that was thought to be the most probable, i.e. "a gradual deterioration due to the continuation of the political status quo." The continued disrespect for international humanitarian law (IHL) was the single largest cause of the growing humanitarian emergency.
The military occupation of Palestinian self-rule areas continued, and movement in and out of Palestinian population centres remained highly restricted. More than 100 checkpoints, combined with another 300-400 ditches and earth mounds, blocked key roads and feeder roads. These prevented people reaching medical centres and schools, and are the largest single impediment to the Palestinian economy. Palestinian manufacturers and farmers wanting to export their products have been hard hit. In comparison, the entry of Israeli goods into the oPt was generally unimpeded.
The overall numbers under curfew declined (on average 390,000 civilians under curfew in November 2002 - April 2003 as compared to 520,000 in the second half of 2002), but people under curfew in areas such as Hebron, Jenin and parts of Gaza were frequently under tighter and continuous curfew.
The number of Israeli civilian deaths per month reached an average of 12 deaths per month for January - March 2003, while Palestinian casualties averaged 80 per month as a result of Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) incursions and military campaigns. The Gaza Strip, with its refugee camps and towns, came under particularly harsh attack: since September 2000, the total Palestinian deaths exceeded 2,200 killed (1,700 in November 2002) and over 28,000 injured (21,000 in October 2002).
The water and hygiene situation throughout the oPt continued to deteriorate. There is strong empirical evidence that the population in rural communities are forced to use alternative water sources that are contaminated, this having a high incidence of water-related diseases. In the villages around Ramallah, Tulkarem and Nablus, for example, infection rates have reached up to 60% of the population. Dealing with solid waste disposal in the face of restricted movement is also still a huge concern.
The nutritional status of the population also deteriorated since November 2002 as a result of the general worsening of the population's economic situation. An increased number of families required food assistance and the situation of those already receiving assistance worsened. An inter-agency team is currently carrying out a review of the situation to ascertain further food security and nutrition data, including clearer targeting criteria and subsequent food assistance. This will help improve targeting and distribution of food aid by clearly identifying those groups - who are vulnerable, why they are vulnerable - and ascertaining the most appropriate form of assistance, be it food aid or other forms of support.
The disruption of movement and trade combined with limited access to labour markets in Israel (around 10,000 - 15,000 work permits were granted compared with a pre-September 2000 total of approximately 130,000) maintained the current trend from organised business activity into barter trade and subsistence farming. The domestic labour market shrank, with over 50% of pre-September 2000 private workforce out of work.
Unemployment, according to a World Bank report, is now reaching 53% of the population and at least 60% of Palestinians live below the poverty line. Geographically, 75% of the Gaza population live under the poverty line in comparison to 50% of the population in the West Bank. The accelerated impoverishment is reflected in a significant drop in the real per capita food consumption of Palestinians, which is now estimated at 70% of pre-September 2000 levels.
In accordance with a plan endorsed by the Israeli Government in June 2002, the construction of a separation wall was pursued along the entire West Bank. The wall is aimed at separating Israel from the West Bank to prevent any uncontrolled movement of Palestinians to Israel. According to Israeli sources, the construction of the first segment of "the wall" - 145 kilometres of electric and barbed-wire fences, trenches, walls - will be completed by July 2003. Should it continue as planned, the fence will disrupt livelihoods and economic activity of an estimated 95,000 Palestinians residing in 27 towns and villages in the West Bank and the Jerusalem area, who will be caught between the Green Line and the Wall.
In spite of a continuing preoccupying situation, there were some positive developments in the past six months. The Israeli Government decided to partially resume transferring PA tax revenues (taxes collected by Israel on behalf of the PA). Since the publication of the Plan of Action, an estimated US$ 95 million in tax clearances have been granted; US$ 680 million is still being retained.
Against formidable odds and steep socio-economic decline, the Palestinian Authority and private service providers continued to provide essential services to the population and employ an estimated 125,000 civil servants. Continued donor budget support enabled the PA ministries and municipalities to maintain a minimum level of basic services, such as health, education, water and electricity supply.
The announcement of the "Road Map" has prompted cautious optimism. The Road Map is expected to outline a gradual or phased process towards a permanent two-state solution. Conceptually, the Road Map is performance-based and includes a humanitarian component that will be monitored in parallel with political processes.
Changes in the Humanitarian Situation
The tracking of humanitarian indicators (as recommended by the Plan of Action) shows deterioration in the overall situation since the Plan was published. There is a decline in all except one parameter -curfew statistics- in comparison with November 2002.
The monitoring of humanitarian activities indicates non-compliance by the IDF on the commitments made by the Government of Israel to the UN Secretary General's Humanitarian Envoy, Ms. Catherine Bertini. One example is the average of 60 ambulances facing delays or other incidents per month. Around one quarter of those were denied access completely. Fifteen ambulances were fired at during the month of March.
The situation for international aid workers in the oPt has become increasingly difficult as well. With the closures and overall lack of access, humanitarian goods were not delivered in a timely manner, if at all. In what can only be seen as a worrisome situation, one UN staff member was killed in November 2002 and three internationals from an NGO in March-April 2003 were seriously wounded or killed. OCHA continues to monitor the access and incidents faced by international staff at checkpoints.
Humanitarian vehicles continue to be subjected to delays. Liaison with IDF, through civil-military structures, has improved dialogue but there is little tangible evidence that access has improved. Palestinian civilians and aid organisations have experienced no change, and in many areas - Nablus and Gaza Strip - there was a sharp deterioration. Further, the implementation of the remaining commitments does not meet the established benchmarks28.
On current humanitarian trends, the overall human development achievements in the oPt since the early 90s are in jeopardy.
In general the risk of a massive degeneration of the humanitarian situation is limited because of a continued supply of goods to the local market (matching the reduced demand); limited but stable salary payments (e.g., by PA, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East [UNRWA]), occasional employment opportunities (industrial zones, settlements) and local charity networks. The increased humanitarian interventions since 2002 by donors, UN, Red Cross/Red Crescent, international NGOs will also ameliorate sharp declines in living conditions of Palestinians. But containing the humanitarian crisis will only occur when the capacity of service provision of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian NGOs is able to continue and when the internal closure regime is lifted. Initial results from assessments recently conducted by relief agencies suggest that vulnerability continues to spread to newer segments of the Palestinian population. The successful implementation of the "Road Map" should bring substantial improvements to the security environment and lifted internal closures may facilitate service provision in the oPt. However, in the absence of a broader political settlement, the overall socio-economic situation will hardly improve in the short-term, thus requiring continued humanitarian assistance.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Changes in the Humanitarian Situation
Annex I. Table I: Summary of Requirements and Contributions - By Appealing Organisations
Annex II. Matrix of Activities undertaken in line of Humanitarian Plan of Action
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