TWN Info Service on Health Issues (Nov09/05)
24 November 2009
Third World Network

Israelís blockade of Gaza a humanitarian crisis

As winter draws near, Israel has been asked to open its border crossings immediately to avert a humanitarian disaster in Gaza. The following report details the desperation of the people as a result of the Israeli blockade and the aftermath of Israelís bombing in 2008/2009.

The following story is reproduced with permission from IPS and South-North Development Monitor SUNS #6819, 20 November 2009  

With best wishes
Evelyne Hong

Middle East: Gazans brace for cold, bleak and miserable winter
By Mel Frykberg, IPS, Ezbt Abbed Rabbo, 17 November 2009

Tens of thousands of Gazans living in tents and damaged homes face a wet, cold and miserable winter as Israel's blockade of the coastal territory continues to prevent the importation of building and reconstruction material.

During the last few weeks, Gazans were given a brief reprieve from the oncoming winter as an un-seasonal snap of warmish, sunny weather held off winter rain and plummeting temperatures.

But, during a tour of northern Gaza last week, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Maxwell Gaylard, and the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) called on Israel to open its border crossings immediately to avert a further deterioration in the humanitarian situation on the ground.

"With winter rains and cold weather now imminent, the people of Gaza are even more desperately in need of construction materials such as cement, roofing tiles and glass to build and repair homes destroyed and damaged during the Israeli military offensive of 2008/2009," said Gaylard.

During Israel's intensive bombing campaign in December/January, Gaza's infrastructure was heavily targeted leading to the destruction and damage of thousands of homes.

"Gaza urgently requires 268,000 square metres of glass for windows and 67,000 square metres of glass for solar water heaters or enough glass to cover more than 30 football pitches. More than 500 children are still living in tents," Mike Bailey from Oxfam told IPS.

Damage caused to Gaza's water, sanitation and electricity systems, exacerbated by Israel's crippling blockade which forbids the import of most essential spare parts and fuel, has further limited the ability of aid agencies to supply essential services.

The lack of concrete water storage tanks means that fresh water can only enter water pipes when there is electricity to power water pumps. Backup generators - which rely on fuel - are needed to ensure power cuts do not lead to water shortages and pollution of water.

"The humanitarian situation is going to deteriorate if something doesn't give," Gaylard told IPS during a tour of the Ezbt Abbed Rabbo area of the northern Gaza strip.

"We are reaching out to the international community. We are appealing to the member countries of the UN on a regular basis about this continuing crisis... We are holding discussions with the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council. One would hope that the message would be getting out after the Goldstone report," said Gaylard.

"We are continuing talks with the Israeli government but pressure must be brought to bear on those responsible for keeping the border crossings closed," Gaylard told IPS.

Fifty metres away from where the media gathered to hear the UN coordinator address the escalating humanitarian crisis, dozens of Gazan families were living the crisis first-hand.

Muhammad Zaid's five-storey home - which took four years to build and was home to 16 people, the youngest a one-year-old - was flattened during 15 days of intensive Israeli shelling at the beginning of the year, forcing the family to flee.

For the first five months after the war, Zaid and his family lived under the caved-in bottom floor of the building. For the last five months, the Zaids have lived in a tent supplied by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Despite the recent unusually warm and dry weather, the heavens opened up for one night last week and rainwater flooded their tent as the family desperately tried to salvage belongings.

"We were awake the whole night scooping water out and trying to dig a small ditch around the tent to prevent more water flooding in but it didn't help. The children were terrified and screaming. It was so cold," Zaid told IPS.

However, when the winter rains begin to flood his tent on a regular basis in the near future, Zaid, who is unemployed and in huge debt, will face the additional problems of having only intermittent electricity, and no running water. "I have spent over $3,000 of borrowed money for a new refrigerator and stove and some other basic appliances but we have no heater and the electricity keeps cutting," said Zaid.