GAZA CITY (IRIN) – The quality of life, the economy and food security for Palestinians living in Gaza have been severely impaired by Israel’s strict four-year blockade, according to the UN.
Israel says its closure regime is designed to protect Israeli citizens from attacks by militants in Gaza. Hamas, the ruling group in Gaza, says Israel’s blockade is aimed at undermining its rule.
IRIN asked three senior officials in the region – from the UN, the Israeli government and Hamas – what they considered to be the top five humanitarian needs of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Strip.
Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs (OCHA) for the occupied Palestinian territory, defines the situation in Gaza as “a protracted human dignity crisis with important humanitarian elements”.
Lazzarini says Gaza is a man-made crisis. He uses the term “human dignity crisis” because he says the entire Gaza population is subject to collective punishment under the blockade, is unlawfully contained in Gaza, and denied the right to movement and access. The containment of the population was highlighted when people could not move during Israel’s 23-day offensive that ended in January 2009, he says.
“A humanitarian crisis is a situation where humanitarian intervention is seen as a life-saving operation,” says Lazzarini. “The massive intervention in Gaza – by UN agencies and other international partners – is justified by the humanitarian crisis and to address the needs of the population.”
The facts and figures indicate that if UN operations stopped, food insecurity and malnutrition rates in Gaza would double, he said. His top five Gaza humanitarian needs are:
One: Food Security
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme say 61* percent of Gaza’s population is food insecure and 30 percent of Gaza’s agricultural land is inaccessible due to the Israeli-controlled buffer-zone, which is inside Gaza along its shared border with Israel, and comprises 15 percent of Gaza’s total area.
Two: Unemployment and Poverty
About 80 percent of the Gaza population depends on assistance from UN agencies, while unemployment has soared to 40 percent, says Lazzarini.
“In the last two years the number of those living in abject poverty in Gaza has risen from 100,000 to 300,000,” he says.
Some 86,000 new housing units are needed in Gaza as a result of population growth. A small proportion of these are needed to replace those damaged during military operations, according to UN estimates.
If the current Israeli approval procedures to bring construction material into Gaza remain in place, it will take years for the UN to implement its US$165 million-worth of stalled projects, says Lazzarini.
Four: Water, Sanitation and Health Care
The blockade has seriously affected these sectors in Gaza, says Lazzarini.
“The United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the education ministry cannot cover the needs of the number of children entering the education system in Gaza,” says Lazzarini, due to a lack of schools and investment.
Bassem Na’im, health minister under the Hamas-led government in Gaza, says the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is growing. His top five humanitarian needs are:
One: Freedom of Movement
Nai’im would like to see the complete freedom of movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza.
“The entry of goods and building materials for all sectors – health, shelter, water and sanitation – is the solution to the whole crisis,” says Na’im.
Two: Health Services
This would require medicine, medical supplies and equipment to enter Gaza freely, as well as spare parts and building materials for the repair of hospitals and healthcare facilities, according to Na’im.
“A hundred medications and over 150 disposable supplies, like needles and syringes, are at zero stock in the ministry’s central store,” he says.
More than 10,000 types of medical equipment, like CT scanners, are in need of spare parts in the 12 hospitals and 56 primary healthcare centres run by the ministry, says Na’im.
Three: Water and Sanitation
“Thousands of Gazans lack household water supplies,” says Na’im.
Four: Fuel and Electricity Supplies
Most households have power cuts 8-12 hours per day due to the blockade, according to Na’im.
According to Na’im, the education sector has been hit hard by the blockade due to a lack of supplies, but the full impact will take years to materialize.
Rising malnutrition indicators – such as increased cases of stunting, wasting and underweight children – are also effecting child development, said Na’im.
Guy Inbar, spokesperson for the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the (Palestinian) Territories (COGAT) says "there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and there never has been, even during Operation Cast Lead [2009 Israeli military operation in Gaza].”
“The only crisis in Gaza is the crisis of [captured Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit,” said Inbar, adding that Hamas has not enabled the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Shalit.
Israel recently increased the amount of goods allowed to enter Gaza, said Inbar.
“Today [29 July] about 150 trucks enter Gaza daily and next week we expect that number to reach 250,” said Inbar, adding that no food or hygiene items were prohibited.
According to Inbar, almost all medical supplies are allowed to enter.
“Parts for equipment – like X-ray machines, which are included on the two lists [of prohibited items] – are allowed to enter but under control,” he said.
When IRIN asked Inbar if the civilian population of Gaza would survive if UN operations ceased there, he declined to comment.
Inbar said Gaza’s problems were due to Hamas.
* Corrected from 70 to 61 percent and adding World Food Programme on 8 August 2010.