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1 February 2008
Situation in Gaza
Matthias Burchard of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said as if the severe closure regime of the past week was not enough for Gaza, Gazans now had to cope with unusually cold weather, heavy rains and winds which only exacerbated the misery of the 1.5 million inhabitants. Jerusalem was under snow, severely hindering aid delivered from there. The Sofa and Karni crossings remained closed. However, some wheat entered via the conveyer adjacent to the terminal, but in insufficient quantities to make any difference to the supply situation. Via Nahal Oz, near Karni, 500,000 litres of industrial fuel, 170,000 litres of diesel, five trucks of cooking gas and 25,000 litres of benzene entered Gaza, barely enough for one day. As a result, the power plant was working at a little more than half its capacity. Overall, Gaza was presently receiving three quarters of its electricity needs from Egypt and Israel, but no one knew for how long. Power supply was irregular and out for most of the day.
Mr. Burchard said the Kerem Shalom crossing was closed. Twelve UNRWA trucks with food arrived at the Israeli side of the crossing but were forced to return to Ashdod despite prior coordination and approval of the Israeli military. UNRWA presently had 161 trucks loaded with vital food waiting in Ashdod to go into Gaza. No commercial or other food had been allowed into Gaza since 18 January. UNRWA and WFP food provisions could only cover about 61 per cent of the minimum daily calorie intake, and recipients had to cover the rest from the commercial market. In the last 10 days, UNRWA provided 15,000 litres of fuel to the main Palestinian Gaza hospitals so that they could continue running their generators and heating systems. It also supplied 112,500 litres to the Gaza Solid Waste Management. This however still fell far short of demand, resulting in garbage piling up along the streets. Because of lack of fuel for waste water treatment, the Gaza Costal Municipal Water Utility was forced to dump 40,000 cubic metres of raw sewage daily in the sea. The border between Egypt and Gaza remained somewhat open. Fear of animal disease due to live stocks brought in from Egypt had prompted Israel to send in thousands of vaccines immediately, but not to send food to feed hungry people. UNRWA hoped that the mission next week to the occupied Palestinian territory by the European Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and Quartet envoy Tony Blair would be fruitful in helping find a solution to the Gaza access problem. UNRWA also hoped that the UN Secretary-General’s appeal to the parties for the implementation of the Agreement of Movement and Access would be heard. It was not acceptable that whole communities were further penalized for the condemnable actions of a few. UNRWA had been told that more trucks would be allowed in on Sunday, and it hoped that would happen.
Mr. Burchard said the situation in the West Bank was equally grim. Daily Israeli military raids on homes and whole villages and settler violence resulted in daily casualties, including among Palestinian refugees. Land confiscations and house demolitions continued unabated.
In conclusion, Mr. Burchard said that last December, the Consolidated Appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory was launched. UNRWA appealed for $ 237 million in urgently needed humanitarian aid, but to date, it had only received 1 per cent.
Christiane Berthiaume of the World Food Programme said free access to humanitarian and commercial food into Gaza was crucial to avoid a generalized humanitarian crisis. WFP had received assurances yesterday that the access situation would improve next week, and like UNRWA, WFP could only hope. The access problem was causing the shortages of food stuff and the increase in prices of food. Last week, 9 trucks carrying WFP food were allowed into Gaza and this week, 11 trucks were allowed in. But in normal times, WFP sent in 15 trucks daily into Gaza, five days a week. Because of this situation, WFP had been distributing partial aid portions to its receiving community, except for the most vulnerable among them. The opening of the border between Gaza and Egypt last week had allowed some commercial stock into Gaza which had slightly improved the situation. Technically, 75 per cent of the inhabitants of Gaza depended on WFP-UNRWA food aid for their survival. Usually, these winter months were the best times for fishing, but because of the lack of fuel, the 3,000 fishermen in Gaza were not able to go out to sea in the vessels. The lack of fuel had also affected the gathering of garbage. WFP helped 300,000 persons in Gaza, including 48,000 new persons it was helping since January.
Veronique Taveau of the United Nations Children’s Fund said UNICEF was voicing its concerns along with UNRWA and WFP concerning the situation in Gaza. UNICEF helped UNRWA a lot with the schools in Gaza. Tomorrow, schools would be re-opening in Gaza following the winter break. But these schools probably would have no heating or electricity because of the situation in Gaza. This meant that children would be expected to work under extreme conditions. It was snowing in Jerusalem and very cold in Gaza and this was affecting the already weak and vulnerable population. Most schools in Gaza had no paper or other educational materials because of the closing of the crossings. Some 56 per cent of Gazans were under 18 years old, so children were bearing the brunt of the shortages of food, fuel and school supplies. Enrolment levels and test scores told a story of deep decline.