New UN report spotlights humanitarian crisis triggered by blockade of Gaza

17 August 2009 – The ongoing Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, now in its third year, has triggered a “protracted human dignity crisis” with negative humanitarian consequences, according to a new report released today by the United Nations relief wing.

“At the heart of this crisis is the degradation in the living conditions of the population, caused by the erosion of livelihoods and the gradual decline in the state of infrastructure, and the quality of vital services in the areas of health, water and sanitation, and education,” adds the report, entitled “Locked In: The Humanitarian Impact of Two Years of Blockade on the Gaza Strip.”

The blockade, imposed following the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007, includes the closure of Karni, one of the largest and best equipped commercial crossings; sweeping restrictions on the import of industrial, agricultural and construction materials; the suspension of almost all exports; and a general ban on the movement of Palestinians through Erez, the only passenger crossing to the West Bank.

“The denial of Palestinians’ right to leave Gaza , or to move freely to the West Bank , particularly when their lives, physical integrity, or basic freedoms are under threat, is another key component of the current human dignity crisis.

“The blockade has ‘locked in’ 1.5 million people in what is one of the most densely populated areas on earth,” notes the report, prepared by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

It finds that the blockade has resulted in the devastation of livelihoods, rising food insecurity, a protracted energy crisis and a deterioration of water and sanitation infrastructure, among other issues.

The lack of essential imports, including raw materials, coupled with the ban on exports, has “decimated” economic activity in the private sector, where 120,000 jobs have been lost.

Also, except for a short interval during the ceasefire brokered by Egypt in 2008, almost no construction materials have been allowed into Gaza through the official crossings, compared to an average of 7,400 truckloads imported every month between January and May 2007.

The ban on the import of building materials has prevented the reconstruction of most of the 3,540 homes destroyed during Operation Cast Lead – launched by Israel in December 2008 in response to rocket attacks by militants in Gaza .

The report notes that Israel has allowed entry into Gaza of a small number of truckloads over the past three months carrying good previously prevented from entering, such as limited construction, water, sanitation and education materials.

“While these are welcome steps, their actual impact when compared to the current level of needs in Gaza remains negligible,” OCHA says.

The report adds that the UN and others have repeatedly urged the Israeli Government to remove the restrictions on Gaza ‘s border, to allow free access to agricultural areas within Gaza , and to allow unrestricted fishing in Gaza ‘s territorial waters.

“These are the urgent first steps needed to start the reconstruction of homes and infrastructure, the revival of the economy and the restoration of human dignity in Gaza ,” it states.

The report also describes how the recurrent cycles of violence and human rights violations, stemming from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially from the recent clashes, and Hamas’ rule over Gaza , have compounded the suffering of the population of the Strip.

Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) today launched an appeal for $181 million to maintain its support to refugees in Gaza .

The appeal, which coincides with the eve of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, covers food assistance, job creation opportunities, and cash assistance for the poorest of the poor. Other urgent needs right now include the rehabilitation of UNRWA education and health facilities.

“A generous response to this appeal will immediately mitigate the downward spiral of destitution and hopelessness facing many refugees as Ramadan approaches,” states the agency. “However, this destitution and hopelessness can, and will, only be curtailed by lifting the siege on Gaza , opening borders in both directions, and allowing the freedom of movement of people.”

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