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Source: Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
31 March 2006

The Gaza Strip is currently in the grips of a full-scale outbreak of avian flu. Two and half million poultry stock in Gaza are threatened. The humanitarian response is addressing two main issues, in order to minimize the impact on the Palestinian population. The first is targeting short-term action to halt further outbreaks in the region. Second, at a time when Palestinians are living with record-high poverty levels, the virus threatens the single most important source of protein in Palestinian diets – poultry. Restocking the poultry industry and finding alternative and affordable protein sources are essential steps to ward off a further deterioration in the humanitarian situation.

With outbreaks in Israel and the Gaza Strip, and following earlier incidents in Egypt, (see map), it is critical that a coordinated approach occurs between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities and international donors. Because of the proximity of the oPt and Israel to each other, such coordination is the most effective way to prevent the virus from spreading across borders.

Until now, both the Israeli and Palestinian Authority (PA) ministries of Agriculture (MoA) and Health (MoH) have been coordinating in an unprecedented manner compared to other government sectors which have not had contacts since the victory of Hamas movement in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections in January this year. Both sides recognise that systems and structured interventions on veterinary and human health services, nutrition and public health policy are vital for the containment of the outbreak.

Yet the PA lacks the level of resources to mount an effective response on its own. Protective equipment for cullers, anti-viral treatments for humans, compensation to farmers, poison, sprayers and disinfectants to carry out the culling, as well as the surveillance capacity for testing farms and backyards are either absent or in short supply.

In part, the shortages emanate both from the non-transfer of the VAT tax and customs revenues that the Israeli Government collects on Palestinian goods on the PA’s behalf, and the freezing of assistance to the PA from mainly Western donor countries since the Hamas-led administration took office.

The PA, with its extensive network of health clinics and personnel and agricultural - extension workers, is the best-placed institution to respond. To augment this capacity, a UN Inter-agency Plan will be launched on 2 May to mitigate the current avian flu outbreak and to reduce the eventual consequences of human flu pandemic. As part of the Plan, there will be an appeal for funds to address some of the emergency shortfalls and growing needs resulting from culling of chickens.

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