#Gaza – Disastrous blockade means more than one million people in Gaza may not have enough food by June

| May 13, 2019

Palestine refugee children near an UNRWA emergency food assistance distribution centre. © 2013 UNRWA Photo by Shareef Sarhan

UNRWA, the United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.4 million Palestine refugees, is struggling to continue providing food to more than 1 million Palestine refugees in Gaza, including some 620,000 abject poor – those who cannot cover their basic food needs and who have to survive on US$1.60 per day – and nearly 390,000 absolute poor – those who survive on about US$3.50 per day. The organization needs to secure at least an additional US$60 million by June.

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. From fewer than 80,000 Palestine refugees receiving UNRWA social assistance in Gaza in the year 2000, there are today over one million people who need emergency food assistance without which they cannot get through their day.

“This is a near ten-fold increase caused by the blockade that lead to the closure of Gaza and its disastrous impact on the local economy, the successive conflicts that razed entire neighborhoods and public infrastructure to the ground, and the ongoing internal Palestinian political crisis that started in 2007 with the arrival of Hamas to power in Gaza,” said UNRWA Operations in Gaza Director Matthias Schmale.

Moreover, the tragic death of 195 Palestinians – including 14 students from UNRWA schools and the long-lasting physical and psychological injuries of 29,000 people during the year-long demonstrations known as the Great March of Return – come after three devastating conflicts in Gaza since 2009, which resulted in at least 3,790 deaths and more than 17,000 injuries combined.

report issued by the United Nations (UN) in 2017 predicted that Gaza would be unlivable by the year 2020.  Today, with over 53 per cent unemployment rate among Gaza’s population and with more than one million people dependent on quarterly UNRWA food handouts, it is mostly preventive humanitarian action of UN agencies, including UNRWA, and remittances from abroad that have held Gaza back from the brink of total collapse.

At a time of increased uncertainty about the future of the Israel-Palestine peace process, UNRWA is one of the few stabilizing elements in a very complex environment. By continuing to deliver upon its mandate, the Agency remains a critical lifeline in Gaza, where its services in health and education and its defense of rights and dignity are indispensable to the most of Gaza’s 1.9 million inhabitants. Most urgent though is the food assistance that the Agency provides to counter the food-insecurity of more than one million Palestine refugees.

The initial and most severe phase of the blockade followed a year of gradual tightening of access restrictions in the wake of the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Hamas in June 2006. The period also saw some 6,500 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. Following Hamas’ violent take-over of Gaza in June 2007, stringent restrictions in the form of a land, air and sea blockade were imposed. In terms of  mports, only ‘basic humanitarian products’ (primarily food, fodder, medical supplies and hygieneitems) were allowed in. A complete ban on exports and transfers of goods to the West Bank during the first two years of the blockade led to the closure of 95% of Gaza’s industrial establishment and the loss of 120,000 jobs.

According to the UN report of 2017, in addition to the impact of the violent Hamas takeover and ensuing Israeli measures imposed in 2007, three rounds of armed hostilities between Israel and Hamas – with the most devastating round in 2014 – have dealt repeated blows to the Gazan economy and damaged essential infrastructure. As a result, the past three years have been focused mainly on the reconstruction of conflict-damages, drawing attention away from the desperate needs that Gaza faced even before the conflict in 2014.

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Category: A Frontpage, EU, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel, Palestinian Authority (PA)

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