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UN allocates $2.5 million to Gaza as NGO warns of humanitarian emergency

Aug. 24, 2017 5:18 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 25, 2017 2:51 P.M.)
Children playing in the besieged Gaza Strip. (AFP/Mahmud Hams/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities (OCHA) released a statement on Thursday confirming that $2.5 million of the UN’s Humanitarian Fund was being donated to the besieged Gaza Strip in order to meet urgent needs in the territory, on the same day that a UK-based NGO warned of an escalating “humanitarian emergency” in the small enclave.

Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and UN Development Activities for the occupied Palestinian territory Robert Piper said in the statement that the fund allocation would “bolster the UN’s emergency fuel operation which primarily supplies fuel to generators to maintain operations in around 190 critical health, water and sanitation installations.”

Piper emphasized that the funding would also provide “essential life-saving medical equipments and supplies” to the besieged enclave, while solar panels, cash assistance, and agricultural supplies would be allocated to residents in order to reduce food insecurity.

‘Serious decline in living conditions in Gaza continues’

Piper underscored the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where residents have continued into their fourth month of a “serious energy crisis,” which has been reduced to barely covering 25 percent of needs in Palestinian households, and hospitals have resorted to relying on generators 24/7.

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a UK-based NGO, released a statement on Thursday, stating that the Ministry of Health in Gaza reported last month that 40 percent of essential medicine and 34 percent of medical disposables had less than a month’s supply left. “This included half of all cancer drugs,” MAP said.

“The serious decline in living conditions in Gaza continues” Piper said in the statement. “The humanitarian plight and the human rights of Gaza’s civilian population -- over half of them children -- appear to have disappeared from view.”

Piper noted that humanitarian workers in the occupied Palestinian territory had appealed for $25 million to address the needs of Palestinians. However, only 30 percent of the funds have been successfully raised.

In May, the Fatah-led PA decided to slash funding for Israeli fuel to the coastal enclave, as Israeli authorities acceded to PA demands to dramatically reduce its electricity supply to Gaza, which was already reeling from lack of adequate access to electricity and fuel.

Palestinians in Gaza have continued to organize their lives around just a few hours of electricity per day.

The PA has also been the target of fierce condemntation for delaying medical referrals for patients in Gaza to receive life-saving treatment outside of the territory. The reports emerged soon after the had PA dramatically slashed its budget to Gaza’s medical sector, leaving residents with no other option but to seek treatment outside the territory, as Gaza’s stock of drugs quickly depleted.

The PA has been accused of carrying out “collective punishment” on Palestinians living in the Hamas-led Gaza Strip in order to wrestle control of the territory.

Crisis turns deadly

MAP warned that the Gaza Strip had reached its “lowest ebb outside of periods of military attack” and that the situation should be considered a “humanitarian emergency.”

The group pointed out that Gaza’s water treatment and desalination plants can “only operate minimal services” owing to the electricity crisis, and that 73 percent of Gaza’s shoreline “is now dangerously polluted,” which has already led to the death of five-year-old Muhammad Ahmed Salim al-Sayes last month after he fell ill from the contamination after swimming.

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights released a report on al-Sayes’ death, stating that doctors had confirmed at the time that the child was suffering from Ekiri syndrome, which can cause trauma to the brain, owing to the contamination on Gaza's beaches.

Al-Sayes’ father had told Al Mezan that the doctors had produced a diagnostic report in order to submit an urgent medical referral for the child to be treated outside of Gaza. When the father put in a request for financial coverage from the PA, which is typically provided for urgent medical referrals in the Gaza Strip, the father was made to wait for a week. However, his request was never approved.

Al-Sayes’ condition subsequently deteriorated and the child died on July 29.

MAP reported that patients in Gaza have encountered “unprecedented barriers to accessing life-saving treatment outside of Gaza,” as they are faced with increased restrictions by both Israel and the PA.

According to the group, in June, Israel approved permits for less than half of patients in Gaza seeking treatment outside of Gaza, while the PA’s Ministry of Health in Ramallah provided the financial coverage needed by patients in Gaza to only 477 referrals, which was 80 percent lower than the monthly average in 2016.

At least 25 Palestinians in Gaza have died so far owing to Israeli and PA restrictions on accessing life-saving treatment in Israel, occupied East Jerusalem, or abroad, according to MAP.

‘When bombs are not falling, international community pays little attention’

“Gaza is experiencing a humanitarian emergency, but when bombs are not falling, the international community pays little attention,” Aimee Shalan, CEO of MAP said in the statement, adding that without humanitarian aid and an end to Israel’s decade-long blockade on the territory Gaza could experience “avoidable loss of life and the further collapse of a health sector which is already struggling to provide the barest minimum of care.”

MAP reported that electricity shortages in the coastal enclave have pushed vital hospital services near collapse, including limiting sterilization and cleaning in medical facilities, causing infection rates to “soar,” limiting diagnostic services to only a few hours a day when non-generator electricity is available, while medical equipment, including an MRI machine, has been damaged due to the frequent power cuts.

MAP emphasized that Israel, as the occupying power in the Palestinian territory, “has an international legal obligation to ensure humanitarian assistance to the population under its control, including access to medical care.”

In 2012, the UN warned that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020 if current trends were not altered. However, a new report released last month by the UN said that “life for the average Palestinian in Gaza is getting more and more wretched,” and that for the majority of Gaza's residents, the territory may already be unlivable.
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