Gaza Moves to Humanitarian Catastrophe

Amid warnings of an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in the besieged Gaza Strip, calls are mounting for Israel to lift its months-long, chocking siege to allow food supplies to the 1.6 million Palestinians in the strip.

"This is a disastrous situation, and it’s getting worse and worse," John Ging, director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, told the Washington Post on Saturday, November 15.

"It is unprecedented that the UN is unable to get its supplies in to a population under such obvious distress.

"Many of these families have been subsisting on this ration for years, and they are living hand-to-mouth."

Israel has banned the UN and other aid agencies from bringing supplies into Gaza, forcing the UNRWA to halt food supplies to half of Gaza population.

The closures also left the strip short of fuel, forcing Gaza’s main power plant, which supplies a third of the territory’s electricity, to shut.

"I call on Israel to reopen the crossings for humanitarian and commercial flows, in particular food and medicines," said EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

"Facilitation of fuel deliveries for the Gaza power plant should be resumed immediately."

Oxfam and Amnesty international also urged Israel to end the Gaza siege.

"World leaders must step up and exercise all their political might to break the blockade of Gaza," Oxfam’s executive director Jeremy Hobbs said.

"As a matter of humanitarian imperative, Israeli leaders must resume supplies into Gaza without further delay."

Israel, backed by the US, has been closing the Gaza Strip’s exits to the outside world since Hamas took control of the territory last year.

It has completely locked down the area since January, banning food, medicine and fuel shipment supplies.


Amnesty International said that Israel was enforcing a collective punishment policy against innocent Gazans.

"Israel’s latest tightening of its blockade has made an already dire humanitarian situation markedly worse," said Philip Luther, deputy director of the London-based body’s Middle East and north Africa program.

"This is nothing short of collective punishment on Gaza’s civilian population and it must stop immediately."

A leaked report by the Red Cross said that the Israeli siege has led to a steady rise in chronic malnutrition among the 1.6 million Gazans.

"Chronic malnutrition is on a steadily rising trend and micronutrient deficiencies are of great concern," said the report seen by The Independent.

The report says the Israeli restrictions are causing "progressive deterioration in food security for up to 70 per cent of Gaza’s population".

It says increasing numbers of Gazans are selling assets, slashing the quality and quantity of meals and cutting back on clothing and children’s education to provide for household.

In the urban sector, in which about 106,000 employees lost their jobs, about 40 percent are now classified as "very poor", earning less than 500 shekels (£87) a month to provide for an average household of seven to nine people.

"Since then I earn no more than 300 shekels per month by sewing from time to time neighbors’ and relatives’ clothes," a former owner of a small, home-based sewing factory says in the report.

"I sold my wife’s jewellery and my brother is transferring 250 shekels every month.

"I do not really know what to say to my children."


Many Gazans now feel they are living in pre-history ages; thanks to the Israeli siege.

"When I look around, it looks as though people have gone back in time," Awni Sawafiri, a 37-year-old taxi driver and father of three, told the Post.

"With no electricity, more and more people are burning wood to make a fire to cook."

Hana Bardawi, who lives in the Shati refugee camp, survives with her seven children on UN food handouts.

"If the UN assistance stops, I will have to take my two oldest sons out of university, because I won’t be able to afford it," she said.

"Now with winter coming, we also need jackets and warm clothes for the children."

Nearly 750,000 Gazans depend on UN aid.

"People just feel hopeless; we don’t see any solution to this situation," said Ahmed Abu Hamda, a journalist.

"They say, ‘What the hell is going on here? I just want to live."

( and agencies)

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