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Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
18 May 2007
Healthcare workers intensify West Bank industrial action
Palestinian Authority (PA) health care workers announced the escalation of strike action in the West Bank on 21 March. The intensification of industrial action, which first began on 16 February, followed the inability of the PA to comply with a previous agreement to pay 25% of overdue staff salaries over a period of four months. An earlier strike lasted for more than three months, between September and December 2006.
The latest wave of action has seen all primary healthcare services cease and emergency rooms closed to all but life-or-death emergencies. Monitoring by the WHO) in Primary Healthcare Clinics (PHC) and ten hospitals in the West Bank across eight governorates revealed an alarming situation in health care provision.
WHO confirmed that immunisation programmes have all but stopped in most governorates and the dispensing of drugs to chronic patients, except for insulin, kidney medications and psychotropic medications, had also ceased in the majority of the surveyed PHC.
In hospitals, elective surgeries had stopped and outpatient clinics had closed with only ICU and lifesaving treatments, such as dialysis and oncology services, emergency deliveries and critical cases admitted in most hospital emergency rooms. Staff attendance was reported as low across the surveyed PHC and hospitals (see the Health section for more details on the impact of the industrial action).
Beit Lahia sewage crisis: long term solution remains in doubt
Effluent from an emergency filtration basin at the wastewater treatment plant in Beit Lahia (Gaza Strip) flooded the nearby Bedouin village of Um Al Nasser on 27 March, home to 700 families (5,000 inhabitants, including 600 school children) killing five people and injuring 25 others.
More than 2,000 displaced residents are being sheltered in a nearby temporary camp established by UNRWA.
While local authorities and humanitarian agencies responded quickly to the emergency humanitarian situation amid fears over the outbreak of disease, a continuing concern is the risk of further flooding. With the construction of a new plant two years behind schedule mitigation steps were undertaken to try to reduce the level of wastewater in the main lake and to reinforce the banks of the existing basins.
The site of the future plant in East Jabalia is close to the Green Line and in 2006 the area was shelled regularly by the IDF following continuing homemade rocket fire originating from that area. Doubts over funding, the uncertain political climate and Israel’s stringent closure policy have also hampered progress.
However, according to reports, authorities in the Gaza Strip have now doubled construction shifts at the new plant.
The original treatment plant, built in 1976, was designed to serve a population of 50,000 which has now soared to 190,000 and rising. Effluent first began overflowing from the original filtration basins more than a decade ago and a large lake of waste water now covers more than 44 hectares. In 2004, UN agencies warned that flooding was inevitable if immediate action was not taken and a new treatment plant constructed (see Health section for more details of response to the crisis).
West Bank drugs banned from East Jerusalem hospitals
A ban announced by Israel’s Ministry of Health (MoH) on medications and supplies manufactured and/or stored in the West Bank from being transported to East Jerusalem hospitals is expected to have a negative impact on NGOs, patients and medical institutions.
The ban, which affects drugs procured/donated by NGOs such as Care International, was imposed reportedly for reasons of quality control by the Israeli MoH. Medicines and consumables have been supplied from the West Bank to East Jerusalem hospitals since 1995 without inspection (as the Israeli MoH ceased to do so because of the high costs involved) or any recorded cases of faulty medicine.
According to the Coordinator of the East Jerusalem hospitals Network, Dr. Tawfiq Nasser, the new ban will have a significant impact on the functioning of hospitals as donated supplies and medications are essential to their ability to provide services during difficult economic conditions. The ban will mean that hospitals and donors will be forced to procure medications from the Israeli market at a significantly higher cost.
Olive industry under threat in Salfit governorate
Olive farmers in Salfit governorate are struggling to access and tend their land ahead of the harvest season due to closures and rising poverty, FAO has reported. The olive harvest is considered a vital and subsidiary source of income for more than 10,000 poor and vulnerable families in Salfit, particularly in the wake of Israel’s closure policy, the loss of jobs in Israel and during the PA’s ongoing financial crisis.
At a time when farmers should be ploughing, cultivating, weeding and controlling pests in their olive groves ahead of the harvest season, land owners are finding it increasingly hard to access their land and meet costs of production. Olive groves, covering about 80% of Salfit’s cultivated area, are under threat from the 23 Israeli settlements, outposts and industrial areas controlling almost 12% of the total governorate area. Since the start of second intifada, an estimated 20,000 olive trees have been destroyed.
In particular, the ongoing construction of the Barrier around and within the governorate will result in major losses to the olive sector. Of Salfit’s 20,500 ha of land, almost half or 10,000 ha will be cut off by the Barrier.
Palestinian journalists boycott PA over abduction of BBC journalist
Palestinian journalists held strikes and boycotted coverage of government activities following the suspected abduction of the BBC’s Gaza reporter Alan Johnston. Their action was aimed at putting pressure on the Palestinian authorities to do more to secure his release. All but a handful of international journalists have withdrawn from the Gaza Strip following the kidnapping of Mr. Johnston from Gaza City by gunmen on 12 March. Many Palestinians feel the abduction has prevented reports about the worsening humanitarian situation within the Gaza Strip from reaching the wider world. No one has so far claimed responsibility for the abduction.
The following UN Agencies, local and international NGOs and organisations participate in sector working groups/provide information to the Humanitarian Monitor: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), United Nations Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), World Food Program (WFP), World Health Organization (WHO), Al Haq, Badil, Save the Children (UK), Defence of Children International – Palestine Section (DCI-PS), Oxfam GB, Palestine Hydrology Group (PHG) and members of the Temporary International Mechanism. (TIM).
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