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Source: European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO)
24 August 2006




Humanitarian aid for the most vulnerable populations affected by the aggravating crisis in the West Bank and Gaza

Location of operation: West Bank and Gaza
Amount of Decision: EUR 50,000,000
Decision reference number: ECHO/PSE/BUD/2006/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population

1.1 - Rationale :

Following the success of the Change and Reform’s party in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections of January 2006 that resulted in the formation of a Hamas-led Palestinian government, the Government of Israel (GOI) stopped the transfer of Palestinian value added taxes (VAT) and customs taxes it is obligated to pass over to the Palestinian Authority (PA) – this accounts for around 50% of the PA budget – thus precipitating a fiscal crisis. The decision of local banks not to cooperate with the PA due to concerns over their legal liability under US anti-terror legislation is also restricting payments that the PA can make and funds that it can receive (particularly from Arab donors). The fiscal crisis is resulting in the non-payment of salaries of 152,000 PA employees who directly support another one million people, or more than 25% of the Palestinian population. At the same time, main donors have reduced various categories of foreign assistance, mainly budgetary support to the PA.

The Israeli closure policy and reduced trade flows have also weakened the fiscal position and economic activity leading to widespread food shortages and price increases with a high impact on the vulnerable population. If the current situation persists, the Palestinian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is conservatively estimated to fall by 25% by the end of 2006. The number of checkpoints has increased from 376 prior to the Israeli disengagement from Gaza to 515 in mid-May 2006, blocking Palestinian movement in the West Bank. Approximately 60,000 Palestinians cross through the checkpoints daily. The separation barrier, which already has had a profound impact on Palestinian lives, especially in terms of access to education, health care services and economic ties, nears completion in and around East Jerusalem, further restricting West Bank Palestinian access into the city. These obstacles have further restricted access to land, markets, and services and have also impacted negatively on the humanitarian situation.

On the security front, Palestinian casualties have increased throughout the West Bank and Gaza (WBG) in the month after the election compared to the month before (at least 34 deaths compared with 15). The security situation for humanitarian actors in the WBG had reached an all-time low in March. The controversy over the publication of 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten last September and the hostilities in Jericho in March sparked an unprecedented surge of kidnappings in the WBG (including one International Committee of the Red Cross staff and a number of NGO staff) and attacks against the property of the International Community. Many of DG ECHO(1)'s partners had to suspend field operations temporarily owing to security concerns.

The Commission is deeply concerned with the sharp deterioration of the humanitarian situation and the increased hardship among the population in the WBG that requires an increased international response. Various UN agencies have drawn attention to the humanitarian crisis for the Palestinian population as a result of Israel's decision to withhold Palestinian clearance revenues, the aforementioned tighter closure policy and the cuts in international aid to the PA. According to the World Bank, almost half of the West Bank’s inhabitants and nearly 70% of the Gaza Strip’s live below the poverty line. At present around 40% of people in the West Bank lack regular access to water and food and the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that the number of people in need of food aid will have increased by 25% by the end of this month.

The Quartet in its statement of 9 May 2006 "expressed serious concern about the deteriorating conditions (…) and expressed concern about the delivery of humanitarian assistance, economic life, social cohesion and Palestinian institutions" and the international community has been called upon to respond to the increasing and rising humanitarian needs.

Both the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Under Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) have recently warned that the international community is facing a humanitarian and security crisis in the WBG.

Tensions and violence escalated in Israel/Occupied Territories as the Israeli military launched operations into Gaza following the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants. With the humanitarian situation looking extremely bleak and steadily worsening by the day, UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and NGOs have been compelled to revise their appeals for aid to Palestinians. The ICRC and IFRC presented Mid-June a revised appeal for an additional EUR 6.4 million for the provision of health services and additional protection needs.

On 31 May 2006 the UN launched a revised UN Consolidated Appeal (CAP) upwards by 80% from EUR 168 million to EUR 300 million. The revised amount aims at alleviating the impact of soaring joblessness and collapse in family income through the creation of emergency employment and to prevent increased malnutrition through expanded food assistance to families unable to meet their caloric needs. Infants and children, who make up half of the population, are at special risk of malnutrition. The revised appeal will also attempt to revive an agricultural sector hard-hit by closures, provide essential health services including counselling for traumatised youth, and provide water to communities with restricted access.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) revised its 2006 Emergency Appeal, which is part of the revised CAP, appealing for an additional EUR 75.23 million, to ensure life-saving support to increasing numbers of vulnerable refugees in WBG. The initial UNRWA Emergency Appeal 2006 of EUR 74 million has been pledged for 66% as of 29 May 2006. UNWRA will expand its emergency employment programmes to provide more jobs to more refugees over the coming six months; provide food to more eligible refugee families; distribute more cash grants to refugees meeting the eligibility criteria; purchase additional medical supplies and expand the reach of mobile clinics in the West Bank; procure emergency supplies to ensure vital basic services such as water and sewage treatment can continue. Recently the Agency has witnessed a 500% increase in new applications for emergency assistance in Gaza refugee camps and anticipates that the number could continue to rise in the near term. It also expects that many refugees who relied on the PA in the past will soon be turning to them for assistance in the area of health care and education.

There is general consensus that an increased humanitarian aid response is urgently needed and should be put in place as soon as possible. If not the access of humanitarian actors and the provision of this aid will be at risk due to a deteriorated security situation.

DG ECHO has submitted for adoption in June a humanitarian aid decision for EUR 34 million for the most vulnerable populations in the ongoing crisis in WBG (EUR 29.64 million), and for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (EUR 3.77 million) to provide humanitarian assistance in the form of distributions of food parcels and provision of productive agricultural inputs; creation of emergency jobs, ensuring access to primary health care services, provision of community-based psychosocial support for children and adolescents, regaining of access to water for household and agricultural purpose, protection and coordination. Out of these EUR 34 million some EUR 28 million have been earmarked for the continuation of ongoing operations responding to earlier identified needs, while an additional EUR 6 million will be allocated to respond to newly emerging needs, especially in the sectors of food aid/security and emergency jobs. However, the EUR 29.6 million earmarked for the WBG will by no means cover the needs that DG ECHO has identified as the most urgent ones.

In this changing and highly politicized context, internationally agreed guiding principles for the delivery of humanitarian aid are all the more important. Humanitarian assistance must be provided in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality, and impartiality.(2) EU humanitarian aid in particular must be guided by needs and not by political requirements, as it is clearly stipulated in Council Regulation 1257/96.(3) In order to ensure the effective delivery of aid, humanitarian agencies should interact with all parties to ensure access and to negotiate conditions. This might entail technical contacts with PA authorities in addition to contacts with the occupying power, which remains ultimately responsible for public order, health and welfare.

The humanitarian assistance provided does not release Israel from its responsibilities as the Occupying Power. As the Occupying Power, Israel bears responsibility under International

Humanitarian Law (IHL), particularly under the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, for the welfare of the Palestinian population in the WBG.

Note:

(1) Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid - ECHO
(2) UN General Assembly Resolution 46/182 (1991)
(3) Council Regulation (EC) 1257/96 of 20 June 1996, Preamble: " […] Whereas humanitarian aid decisions must be taken impartially and solely according to the victims' needs and interests."


FULL REPORT:


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