Gaza Humanitarian Needs Update

The UN is now feeding 1 million plus people in Gaza – and Israel pays not one cent toward the human and infrastructure disaster it deliberately provoked in its disgraceful quest to expand its illegal settlements and maintain its ugly illegal Occupation.

Press conference on Gaza situation by World Food Programme official

Source: United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI)

Date: 29 Jan 2009

Joining the chorus of United Nations officials calling for the uninterrupted opening of border crossings into the Gaza Strip, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Regional Director for the Middle East today said that meeting the immediate needs of Palestinians left traumatized and homeless by Israel’s three-week war with Hamas required the free flow of not just emergency food, but fuel, medicines and necessary building supplies.

World Food Programme’s Daly Belgasmi, whose responsibility also includes Central Asia and Eastern Europe, told correspondents during a Headquarters press conference that the sporadic border closings were only adding to the challenges the agency faced as Operation Lifeline Gaza scaled up deliveries of nutrition-fortified date bars, ready-to-eat meals for hospitals and schools, as well as sugar, wheat flour and vegetable oil.

He said WFP’s portion of the wider United Nations appeal for $613 million, announced earlier today in Davos by the Secretary-General, was $82.3 million. That was “really the minimum to be able to provide some assistance to the people in need”. The formal appeal would be announced by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs next week in Geneva. His agency had enough stocks in Gaza for the next three weeks, and was providing school meals of milk, date bars and bread to 50,000 children to encourage attendance and improve nutrition.

The Operation aimed to reach some 365,000 people and, he said, together with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the United Nations was feeding a little over 1 million of Gaza’s roughly 1.4 million inhabitants. “There are sad, traumatized people in Gaza, who, even before this war, had nothing in their homes but what has been given them by WFP,” he said, stressing that borders, which Israel again briefly closed on Tuesday following a border bomb attack, had to be open on a continuous basis and restrictions on the movement of people and goods lifted so that urgently-needed assistance could reach the population.

“The crossing points remain very, very challenging,” he continued, noting that each of the five border crossings -– Erez, Rafah, Karni, Kerem Shalom and Sufa — presented specific logistical challenges. For instance, at Kerem Shalom, the largest and perhaps most critical of the lifelines into Gaza, WFP and other agencies not only had to deal with security measures, but with complicated pick-up procedures: trucks dropped goods off, shipping and customs documents had to be checked and then the process might simply stall while crews waited on the Palestinian side for pack animals and delivery men to get to the staging area to pick up the shipments. The process of picking up the goods on the Gaza side was also hampered because there were not enough trucks or enough fuel, and no spare parts for repairs.

The United Nations had a “very strong and very capable team” coordinating activities with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv, at Kerem Shalom and the other borders to address logistics as well as the on-again, off-again situation with the borders. “We are doing our best, but the closure of the crossing points is a critical challenge,” he said, stressing that, after Israel’s earlier 18-month blockade, the food chain in Gaza had collapsed. Many basic food items were no longer available in the market, and the price of available commodities such as cooking gas and fuel had increased sharply. After this latest round of fighting, if the borders were not opened for the free movement of goods as well as people, the problem would only worsen.

Responding to questions, he acknowledged that supply trucks were backed up on both sides of the Gaza Strip — the Egyptian and particularly Israeli borders. “It’s not perfect,” he said, but the situation was improving, even if only incrementally.

On tough political issues, including Hamas’ role in the recovery effort and one reporter’s charge that Egypt and the wider Arab world had done nothing while the war inside Gaza had raged, Mr. Belgasmi said that humanitarians tried not to get bogged down by politics. “We are firemen. We go in and put out the fire — in this case, feed the people — and go on with our work,” he said, stressing that WFP, at least, believed that its work was helping to build the peace and promote the self-sufficiency of the Palestinian people. Indeed, by targeting schools and hospitals with feeding programmes, WFP was hoping to help address immediate needs and provide the tools to build a foundation for hope for a better future in Gaza.

“The challenge is to get jobs. When you have, today, unemployment of 70 per cent, people should work on construction […] We need to get them items for construction, we need to get the hospitals working, we need to get the schools coming back to a normal educational life,” he said.

WFP was also carrying out its operations in a way that would allow space for other humanitarian actors, including other United Nations agencies, and especially private companies and non-governmental organizations that could directly assist small farmers and businesses, whose work was vital for the survival of the people in Gaza. He also stressed that reconciliation among Palestinian factions was another key to long-term recovery in Gaza. “By making peace among themselves and forgetting about ideologies”, Palestinians could contribute to the broader effort to promote peace and development in Gaza.

The Australian Government begins to release some of its $5m aid to Gaza:

Australia provides support to NGOs for humanitarian relief in Gaza

Source: Government of Australia

Date: 30 Jan 2009

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I am pleased to announce the Australian Government is providing $2 million for Australian NGOs to deliver immediate emergency assistance to Gaza.

This funding is part of the $5 million package of assistance announced by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith on 27 January. The remaining $3 million is for United Nations agencies to replenish food and emergency stores.

Details of the support and funding:

Australian Red Cross ($300,000): In partnership with the Palestine Red Crescent Society, the Australian Red Cross will focus on improving access to safe water for up to 50,000 families through the provision of hygiene kits, water purification supplies and the deployment of water treatment units and jerry cans.

CARE Australia ($425,000) will provide basic medical assistance, non-food items such as building materials, cooking equipment, blankets, winter clothes and hygiene kits, and increased access to safe water supplies by deploying water trucks and repairing water pumping stations. Their activities will focus on assisting conflict affected families in the north of Gaza.

Oxfam Australia ($425,000) will distribute family emergency hygiene kits, baby hygiene kits and cleaning kits to 5,000 conflict-affected households across Gaza. They will also improve the water and sanitation conditions in target communities, kindergartens and primary schools by repairing damaged community infrastructure and deploying 10 mobile water tanks.

Save the Children Australia ($425,000) will focus their emergency response on improving the health of mothers, newborns and children in hospitals, health care centres and shelters in the north and south of Gaza, as well as Gaza City. This will involve advising mothers on the care of their newborns, establishing community support networks and providing supplementary food and micronutrients.

World Vision Australia ($425,000) will meet the immediate food and hygiene needs of 2,150 vulnerable families that have been affected by the recent conflict in Gaza. These families are located in both the north and south of Gaza.

Contacts: Sabina Curatolo (Mr McMullan’s Office) 0400318205, AusAID 0417680590

Further aid to Gaza is being considered by Australia

Australia is considering what further aid it can send to help rebuild the Gaza Strip, on top of a recent $5 million contribution.

Speaking on Radio National Breakfast, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said Australia views the secretary-general’s appeal with great sympathy.

“We will make a contribution, you can be reliably assured of that,” he said.

“The extent of the contribution and the amount, of course we have to make judgements about that, but also see what other countries are doing, and see where we can be of most assistance – whether it’s a cash contribution, or whether it’s other things that we can do in terms of technical expertise.”

Technical expertise is moot without the oppressor state allowing more than emergency aid into stricken Gaza.

Further threatening the lives of people in Gaza, Israel is refusing to allow the French to import a water purification plant into the stricken region.

Israel has refused to allow a French-made water purification system into Gaza amid a drinking water crisis in the Palestinian strip.

The French Foreign Ministry said Friday that Tel Aviv had blocked the entry of a much-needed water purification station into Gaza and had forced its repatriation.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Eric Chevallier said the move has sparked an outcry in the Elysée, prompting it to summon the Israeli ambassador to Paris to explain why the system was denied access.

“There were a very great number of steps taken at all levels to try to get the water purification station into Gaza,” he said, adding that Israel’s explanation was not satisfactory.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recently warned that Israel’s 23-day onslaught on Gaza has pushed its sewage system on the brink of collapse and thus increased risks of groundwater contamination in the Palestinian territory.

“The most dangerous thing is the contamination of drinking water with sewage. We need an international organization like the World Health Organization to investigate the matter,” said Monther Shoblak, head of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU).

According to the UN, Israel’s three week-long saturation bombing of the Palestinian territory has seriously damaged pipes and has left drinking water in very short supply.

Warning of the serious public health risks, the World Bank has urged the Israeli government to allow enough fuel into Gaza to operate some 170 water and sewage pumps there.

The bank called on Israel to allow maintenance crews to shore up a sewage lake in northern Gaza before it overflows at the expense of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the area.