Background: Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

July 16, 2006

Israel launched a new offensive in Gaza on June 28. In addition to occupying the Gaza with ground forces and killing and wounding hundreds, Israeli aircraft have targeted both civilian population centers as well as Gaza's infrastructure including roads and bridges, power stations, water and sanitation systems, homes, government buildings, etc.

The latest offensive exacerbated an existing humanitarian crisis due to years of occupation. Recently, a joint statement by the six UN humanitarian agencies working in the occupied Palestinian territories, concluded that "Unless urgent action is taken, we are facing a humanitarian crisis that will have far reaching consequences for the communities we work in and the institutions we work through."

After the election of the new Palestinian government in January of this year, Israel stopped transferring tens of millions of dollars a month in taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The US, the European Union, and other countries suspended international aid to the PA. The US went further and threatened action against financial institutions that helped provide money or services directly to the new government. Fearing sanction from the U.S., many commercial banks froze accounts of the PA, and other donor countries were not able to deliver money to the PA, triggering a financial crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The Salaries of 172,000 employees have gone unpaid, impoverishing nearly 1 million people in Gaza and the West Bank who are dependent on these payments.

The situation in Gaza is particularly severe because Karni, the largest crossing point for commercial supplies into the Gaza Strip, had been closed by the Israeli military for 57 days through April. Each day of closure results in an estimated loss in export trade of $500,000-$600,000. The Erez crossing for workers and traders entering Israel has also been closed since March 12 with no indication of when it will reopen. This has led to shortages of essential items including bread, dairy products, fruit and medical supplies.

In Gaza, 80% of the population live in poverty and 40% are unemployed. The World Food Program (WFP) estimated that in June, 70% of the population was unable to cover their daily food needs without aid. Ten percent of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. 350,000 children are stunted, with the burden falling most heavily on 1-2 year-olds. More than 15% are malnourished at this critical age in their overall development.

With Israel's restrictions on humanitarian supply lines, as of July 9, there was a backlog of over 230 containers of food awaiting delivery at the border crossing.

Since the Israeli strike on Gaza's only power plant on June 28, the entire area is without electricity for between 12 and 18 hours every day. Food factories, flour mills, and bakeries are being forced to reduce production. Water utilities are also dependent on electricity and are forced to rely on backup generators cutting back on daily operations by two thirds. Israel has also threatened to cut water supplies.

The public health care system has been in crisis since February of this year, because of lack of funding and shortages of medical supplies. The World Health Organization (WHO) said the public health system is facing an unprecedented crisis, with the current stock of fuel for back-up generators likely to run out within two weeks. In the last week, the agency also predicts that 23 per cent of the essential drug list will be out of stock within a month. People are dying because surgical and medical procedures cannot be performed.