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Gaza's humanitarian crisis

Children at Rafah border
Gaza holds 1.5m inhabitants, more than half of them children

A group of UK-based human rights and development organisations have called for fundamental policy changes towards the Gaza Strip by Israel, the international community and the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership.

Their report details what are calling the worst humanitarian crisis in the strip since Israel occupied it in the 1967 war, and describe it as a man-made disaster resulting from the isolation and blockade of Gaza after its take-over by Hamas militants last June.

The following are the main points in the report, sponsored by Amnesty International, Care International UK, Cafod, Christian Aid, Medecins du Monde UK, Oxfam, Save the Children UK and Trocaire.

POVERTY LEVELS

More than 80% of Palestinians in Gaza rely on humanitarian assistance, with UN food aid going to about 1.1 million people - three quarters of the population.

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The number of families dependant on the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) has increased tenfold since 1999.

Household monthly incomes dropped by 22% in less than four months (June-September 2007). The number of households earning less than $1.20 per person per day went from 55% to 70%.

The UN appeal for humanitarian aid in 2008 is $462m, more than twice the 2006 appeal and the third largest UN request after Sudan and Congo.

RESTRICTIONS ON MOVEMENT

Israel prevents the import of a list of specific essential humanitarian goods requested by aid agencies, including some fuel supplies, spare parts, cement, technical assistance and cotton for hygiene items.

Travel in and out of Gaza is all but impossible and supplies of food and water, as well as sewage treatment and basic healthcare can no longer be taken for granted.

Food prices are rising and wheat flour, baby milk and cooking oil are increasingly scarce.

A joint Israeli-Palestinian agreement in November 2005 has not succeeded in allowing cross-border access and movement to bolster the Gazan economy.

On average 12 export trucks a day passed through Karni goods crossing during 2006 - a fraction of the intended number.

Supplies to Gaza, intended to be 250 trucks a day, are limited to 45 trucks a day.

ECONOMIC COLLAPSE

Gaza baker with queue for bread
Gaza businesses are about subsistence not wealth creation
Most private businesses have shut down in the last six months and 95% of Gaza's industrial operations are suspended as a result of import and export restrictions. Unemployment is close to 40%.

Construction and agriculture have ground to a halt, 3,500 factories out of 3,900 have closed, causing 75,000 private sector job losses.

Gaza's agricultural sector has suffered from repeated Israeli incursions destroying fields and greenhouses. Israel insists that no crop is allowed to grow over 40cm high, limiting farmers to cash crops which are costly to produce and heavily reliant on accessible export markets.

The numbers of people working in Israel, 24,000 Gazans in 2000, has been reduced to zero.

UTILITIES

Israeli allows 2.2 million litres of EU-supplied industrial diesel per week, which is not enough to keep Gaza's main power plant operating at full capacity.

There is a 20% shortfall in electricity with implications for hospitals, sewage works, water supply and other public institutions.

Between 25-30% of the population of the Gaza Strip does not receive running water at home because electricity is not available for pumping. About 30-40 million litres of sewage flows untreated into the sea every day.

HEALTHCARE CRISIS

Hospitals experience power cuts for 8-12 hours a day and depend on generators to run basic facilities, although there is a shortage of diesel. Spare parts for generators are almost impossible to obtain.

Access to lifesaving treatment outside Gaza has become more necessary, but in December 2007 only 64% of applicants were given permits to leave the strip by Israel, leading to dozens of patient deaths.

CHILDREN

Gaza children
A good education system ought to be a lifeline for Gaza's children
More than 56% of Gaza's population are children. Almost 2,000 pupils have dropped out of school this academic year.

School has been disrupted by electricity cuts; classes with high energy consumption such as IT have been cancelled; there is a shortage of textbooks and other resources.

A UN survey indicated 80% failure rates in most years and up to 90% failure rates in mathematics.

Director of the UN relief agency for Palestinian Refugees in Gaza, John Ging, said: "What we are seeing is the collapse of education standards due to the cumulative effects of the occupation, closures, poverty and violence."

SECURITY

Israel retains effective control of Gaza's land and sea borders and air space, and the movement of people and goods. As such it has obligations as an occupying power to ensure the welfare of the Palestinian population, the humanitarian agencies say.

They acknowledge Israel has an obligation to protect its citizens from rocket attacks from Gaza, but argue that the current strategy of isolating and blockading Gaza has not stopped rocket attacks.

Gazans' lives are mostly characterised by insecurity according to the agencies: military presence and attacks, extra-judicial assassinations, loss of land, restrictions on movement, lack of drinking water, unemployment, and barriers to healthcare and education.




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