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Crisis management will not make Gaza liveable

To sign the Avaaz Thirsting for Justice, drinking water for Gaza, petition . The flood water obviously is not potable and increases the lack of pumped clean water.
To sign the Thirsting for Justice petition, ‘Gaza to run out of drinking water by 2016′, for presentation to the EU, click here. Started on September 26th the number of signatures had crept up to 8,731 by Sunday November 17th, to 8,886 by Sunday November 24th, 8,999 by December 1st, 9,186 by December 8th and 9,530 by December 15th. They hope to reach 100,000 to present it to EU leaders. Unfortunately, as the portal Occupied Palestine has stopped picking up from JfJfP and most other external sources, this petition, started by a Palestinian and the Palestinian NGO Thirsting for Justice, has not been widely reposted in Palestine.
This posting has these items:
1) WHO: WHO expresses concern over the Gaza humanitarian health crisis;
2) UN OCHA: Winter Storm exacerbating needs among already vulnerable communities;
3) Ha’aretz: Hailstorm reaches Tel Aviv; Israel to open Gaza crossing to allow entry of gas, water pumps, 1 sentence report;
4) Ma’an news: Widespread flooding in Gaza forces thousands to flee homes;
5) Al Jazeera: International attitude towards Gaza: management by crisis;


Flooded streets of Gaza city December 13th, 2013; still no fuel to pump the water away. Photo by ActiveStills

WHO expresses concern over the Gaza humanitarian health crisis, December 2013

December 08, 2013

Jerusalem – The accumulation of shortages in basic supplies in the Gaza Strip is leading to rapid deterioration in the social determinants of health for the population of 1.7 million Palestinians. It is also straining the health system’s ability to continue to provide a good standard of health care. The chronically ill, newborns, transplant recipients, the elderly, persons with disability, emergency patients, and the poor are most vulnerable, but the mental health and public health of the whole population is also at risk from increasing stress and declining services. And with 60 000 births a year, Gaza’s health care needs are growing.

Public health representatives from various institutions in the Gaza Strip met last week to discuss the decreasing ability of the fragile health infrastructure to cope with critical shortages. With 30% of medicines and 50% of medical disposables out of stock at the Central Drug Store, health care providers cannot supply patients with the right kind or amount of medications. Large generators for powering hospitals during 14-hour electricity cuts have frequent breakdowns. One of two generators powering the Gaza European hospital burned out last month. The remaining generators are unreliable and diesel is scarce, expensive and can supply only partial needs, such as the 200 patients in intensive care units. In recent months, government hospitals have reduced non-urgent surgeries by almost half in an effort to conserve fuel and medical supplies for urgent cases.

Government health services are relieved only in part by health services of UNRWA and nongovernmental organizations, since the Ministry of Health in Gaza is the sole provider for a number of critical medical interventions such as chemotherapy, haemodialysis, hepatitis treatment, coronary artery bypass grafting and referrals outside of Gaza. Except for a stoppage in life-saving treatments, for example dialysis for patients with kidney disease, the impact on health is largely invisible. It translates as more suffering for the patient, unnecessary complications, lower quality of life and often premature death. For the Ministry of Health and other health providers, health care costs increase when interventions are not timely, accurate and adequate. Shortages of drugs such as those for chemotherapy put greater demand for higher cost referrals outside of the Gaza Strip.

Most recently Gaza residents are suffering from disruption in fuel access, making long electricity blackouts a constant problem for every household and health facility. Power shortages cause a chain reaction of consequences that directly and indirectly affect population health and the health system, as water supplies are curtailed, sewage pumps rendered inoperable, and ground transportation, even for basic public health services such as solid waste removal, becomes less frequent.

The severe and prolonged shortages of fuel, electricity and medicines along with widespread poverty stem from 6 years of tight restrictions into and out of Gaza’s borders for people and goods. Resupply of medicines and disposables has been sporadic due in part to chronic shortages in the main drug warehouse caused by the Palestinian Authority budget deficit. Palestinian Authority resupply of drugs and disposables has been reduced over the past six months to one shipment of US$ 1 million compared to US$ 5 million in the previous half year. Medical donations and medical missions that used to arrive to Gaza from charities in the Arab world have almost halted.

Middle-income families can rely on small generators for domestic use – expensive to operate and often dangerous – but they are no substitute for direct power. At home, patients, and especially the poor, who depend on portable medical equipment to aid their breathing, heart function, monitoring, home dialysis, and even to supply heat, in the case of infants or elderly patients, are particularly stressed by unstable supply of electricity.

WHO calls for long-term systemic solutions to the chronic humanitarian crisis of shortages, rather than short-term aid which relieves but fails to improve the underlying social determinants of health in the Gaza Strip.

Winter storm increases flooding in Gaza, December 13, 2013. Photo from Palestine Today agency

OCHA oPt Humanitarian Update: Winter Storm Developments

December 13, 2013

Winter Storm exacerbating needs among already vulnerable communities
The winter storm which hit the area on Wednesday has generated humanitarian needs in multiple locations throughout the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). In the Gaza Strip, the storm is exacerbating the poor humanitarian situation that has deteriorated in recent months due to an acute fuel and energy crisis. In the West Bank, a range of vulnerable communities are suffering the ill effects of floods, power outages, and bitterly cold temperatures. All schools have been closed since Wednesday in both the West Bank and Gaza. Preliminary reports indicate flooding of agricultural fields, and damages to greenhouses and livestock in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Damages are expected to increase as the storm continues and as more accurate information is received and field assessments undertaken in the coming days.

Gaza Overview:
The Gaza Ministry of Health reported that, as of Thursday evening, 48 people had been injured in incidents related to the ongoing storm, 10 of whom remain hospitalized. Flooding has occurred in many parts of the Gaza Strip and more floods are expected due to the lack of pumps to remove water. The flooding is a direct impact of the water infrastructure being non-operational and stretched beyond its capacity. Due to the ongoing energy crisis, the 291 water and sewage treatment installations have been largely non-operational, and storm water ponds were already filled with sewage prior to the storm. In several places, sewage is mixed with flood water. The situation in Gaza has been worsened by damage to electricity feeder lines from Egypt and Israel on Thursday, which had been repaired by 5PM today.

While the most essential services have been supplied with emergency fuel, families remain without electricity for at least 16 hours per day. The Erez Crossing with Israel has also been flooded and is inaccessible, and is anticipated to be closed until Tuesday. The Government of Israel has offered to provide 4 water pumps for Gaza and has communicated that it will facilitate medical evacuations through the Kerem Shalom Crossing and other humanitarian assistance as required. Preliminary reports suggest 70-75 per cent of greenhouses in the Gaza Strip have been damaged.

Thousands have had to abandon their homes, flooded with sewage and storm water. Photo from Palestine Today agency

Worst affected communities: Most affected are northern Gaza, in particular Gaza City, Rafah, Deir al Balah and Khan Younis. Refugee camps, and refugees in general, are areas of particular concern. Residents of lower-lying areas are evacuating to temporary shelters in 15 schools, designated by the de facto authorities and located across Gaza. More people are expected to be evacuated to higher areas. Hundreds of homes have been flooded in the past four days, with at least 2,800 people displaced in Gaza City, Khan Younis, Jabaliya and the Middle Area (Wadi Gaza); they are now taking refuge in the emergency shelters. Two schools in the Rafah area have been flooded while flooded roads hinder access to the affected areas.

Urgent needs:
In Gaza, the most urgent humanitarian needs include shelter, installations to remove flood water, and non-food items, particularly fuel.

Shelter: Hundreds of homes have been damaged and are in need of repair, and the number is expected to increase.

WASH: According to the WASH cluster, one of the biggest risk areas is the Sheikh Radwan Storm Water Lagoon, which is filled and threatens to overflow. The Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) declared on Thursday that the eight mobile pumps for storm water evacuation currently operating were insufficient. The CMWU has identified the need for five to seven large-scale mobile water pumps (with a capacity of 200m3/hour) from the Palestinian Authority and/or Israel to reduce the flooding in several areas, four of which were reportedly being provided by the Government of Israel and on their way to Kerem Shalom Crossing Friday. It is critical that these pumps reach Gaza within the coming 24 hours. An emergency delivery of 64,000 litres of fuel on Thursday prevented worse flooding.

NFIs: NFI stocks among local partners are shrinking rapidly and actors are looking to import more goods from outside Gaza. It is estimated that only 50 per cent of those in need of NFIs are currently covered by local actors. UNRWA has supplies for 50,000 people, but in some places access challenges hamper distribution. A contingency group involving relevant actors was set up in Rafah, under which the Gaza Ministry of Social Affairs is to distribute food parcels and UNRWA NFIs.

Fuel needs remain high in Gaza, with emergency fuel donations covering only essential services. At a household level, many people lack fuel or electricity for their needs. Responses: A wide range of responses have already taken place: NFIs including 324 mattresses, 950 blankets, more than 6,000 m2 of plastic sheets, 21 kitchen kits, and 24 cleaning kits were distributed to families by local government, PRCS and other local partners. UNRWA has distributed NFI (mainly plastic tarpaulin & nylon but also mattresses, blankets, kitchen kits) to 276 families; distributions are in progress to an additional 468 families.

The PRCS and Gaza Ministry of Social Affairs have distributed at least 490 bread packs on Friday, and the World Food Programme has distributed food rations for an initial period of approximately one week to about 157 families, who had moved to emergency shelters. Efforts are underway to provide at least 137 more families, including in Gaza City and northern Gaza, with assistance. On Thursday, UNRWA and the ICRC supplied 64,000 litres of emergency fuel to priority water pumping stations as identified by CMWU and the WASH cluster. This delivery has limited the flooding to some extent. Water pumping from two UNRWA schools is also taking place as well as an emergency fuel delivery to the municipality.

Hailstorm reaches Tel Aviv; Israel to open Gaza crossing to allow entry of gas, water pumps.

From Ha’aretz, December 13th, 2013

[After storms of heavy hail, snow and rain in Palestine/Israel]:

Heeding a request by UN officials, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories announced Thursday that it would open the Kerem Shalom crossing, due to extenuating weather circumstances, to allow for the transport into Gaza of gas for heating houses and water pumps for coping with floods.

Widespread flooding in Gaza forces thousands to flee homes

By Alex Shams, Ma’an news
December 13, 2013

The Gaza Strip was pounded by fierce winds and rain again on Friday as flooding reached dangerous levels in many areas, forcing thousands to flee their homes amid widespread power outages as temperatures plunged into the single digits.

The flooding was worst in the northern Gaza Strip, where hundreds fled their homes and water levels reached 40-50 cm in some parts, forcing residents to use boats to navigate their neighborhoods.

The Gaza government said in a statement on Friday that so far 2,825 people have been evacuated from their homes, reaching a total of 458 families.

A family takes refuge in a school classroom, Gaza

The evacuated were being sheltered in schools across the Strip, the statement was reported by Gaza-based Safa News Agency as saying, as Hamas civil defense authorities rushed to evacuate flooded homes.

Gaza Minister of Health Mufid al-Mukhalalati declared a state of “extreme emergency” as all emergency devices and ambulance crews were put on a state of high alter in all regions of the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, the minister of Local Government Muhammad Farra instructed the mayors of Gaza to suspend all leave for staff and workers in the water and sanitation sectors until the end of the current crisis.

Farra said in a press statement that municipal crews “will work day and night” until the storm passes, stressing that they will continue their efforts despite the lack of fuel and electrcity.

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness told Ma’an, “In Gaza there is a significant problem with flooding in the north, specifically in Jabaliya, and UNRWA staff has been working all night,”

“An UNRWA staff member reported that there were three meters of water surrounding his house,” he added, pointing out that water had come up to the first floor in some areas.

UNRWA was engaged in emergency evacuations “around the clock” as heavy rains flooded many neighborhoods across the densely populated coastal enclave, he added.

“After so many years of the Israeli blockade, the public health system in Gaza was already acutely and chronically damaged, so the man-made problems inflicted on Gaza are compounded by the extreme weather conditions.”

On Thursday, the Gaza Disaster Response Committee announced it was working “around the clock” to help those affected.

The high water levels also shut down the Erez, or Beit Hanoun, crossing, a Palestinian military source told Ma’an.

He said that access to the crossing had been completely cut due to flooding from the storm, adding that a number of vehicles transporting sick patients to pass through the crossing had gotten stuck in the water.

Despite this, the crossing would stay partially open on Friday for those needing medical attention as well as some travelers.

Ezz al Zanoon, a photographer based in central Gaza, described to Ma’an how the flooding was affecting daily life in the Strip.

“A friend of mine went out to get milk for his four kids and he had to go in a boat,” because of the flooding, he said, adding that boats were the easiest way for many to leave their houses.

“In many areas water has flooded the houses, the entire first floors are flooded. In Sheikh Redwan it’s the worst, but also in Jabaliya and Khan Younes.”

“The civil forces are trying to help (clear the flooding), but there’s no solution. They need electricity to help move the water.”

“I don’t know how people are living,” he added.

Zanoon stressed that the storm had compounded the already dangerous conditions Gaza residents were living under as a result of severe fuel shortages over the last few months.

“Electricity is only on for one or two hours a day,” he said, pointing out that in the days before the storm’s arrival daily electricity availability had dropped drastically from previous levels of six to 12 hours.

“People are suffering as they wait up all night for the electricity and water to come on,” he added, pointing out that water availability was dependent on the availability of electricity with which to pump it.

“There is no movement, no one goes out. Even those who work can’t go out.”

“The people hold Hamas and Fatah responsibly, both Haniyeh and Abbas,” he added.

“How could they let the situation of the children in this country become like this?”

“We know there is a siege (on Gaza), but there has to be a solution. Abbas is the most responsible, why doesn’t he do anything?”

uel shortages have caused daily life in the Gaza Strip to grind slowly to a halt since early November, as power plants and water pumps are forced to shut down, cutting off access to basic necessities for Gaza residents.

The Gaza Strip has been without a functioning power plant since the beginning of the month, when the plant ran out of diesel fuel as a result of the tightening of a seven-year-long blockade imposed on the territory by Israel with Egyptian support.

The plant itself was only reopened last year after it was targeted by an Israeli airstrike in the 2006 assault on the Strip. The power plant generates around 30 percent of the Gaza Strip’s electricity supply, while the rest comes from Israel and Egypt.

Until July of this year, the tunnels to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the territory amidst the otherwise crippling Israeli blockade. The blockade has been in place since 2006, and it has limited imports and exports and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.

In the last year, however, the situation had greatly improved, as the tunnels to Egypt witnessed a brisk trade following the Egyptian Revolution.

Gaza Strip energy officials have blamed Egypt for destroying numerous tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt in recent months. They also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for charging taxes on fuel too high for Gaza Strip authorities to afford.

International attitude towards Gaza: management by crisis

The urgent need for a comprehensive action on the disastrous situation in Gaza has largely been ignored.

By Pam Bailey, Al Jazeera
December 07, 2013

The cycle is occurring again. The Gaza Strip, and the 1.7 million Palestinians who live there, periodically force their way into international headlines, driven by a crisis so urgent they can no longer be ignored. Politicians wring their hands; activists and relief agencies issue calls for help and organise convoys of supplies and volunteers; and the media practice pack journalism by running a story or two. Then, once conditions are no longer quite so dire, the world’s attention veers on to the next tragedy, or to affairs that more directly affect the superpowers that set the agenda.

Meanwhile, the underlying problems fester on, waiting to burst forth again a few months down the road, in a never-ending cycle of futility and hopelessness.

Fuel is the crisis ‘du jour’

The latest crisis in Gaza was triggered on June 30, when the Egyptian military forced the country’s elected president from office (clearly a coup, albeit with the support of a large swath of the public), imposed martial law, and halted all but a trickle of traffic into and out of the tiny, densely packed strip of land (in retaliation for the alleged support of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Hamas government). Added to the already crippling blockade imposed by Israel since 2007, the Egyptian actions have created an acute shortage of fuel, construction materials and a variety of essential medicines within Gaza. On December 1, Amnesty International renewed its call for an end to the Israeli blockade, and demanded that both Israel and Egypt facilitate the delivery of fuel and other vital supplies – a statement that has yet to garner any serious media attention.

Since 2011, Gaza’s only power plant has relied on inexpensive diesel transported from Egypt through a maze of tunnels running between the Sinai Peninsula and the strip. Some fuel also comes from Israel, but is too expensive for most people and businesses. At their peak, the tunnels numbered between 250 and 500, and accommodated 1 million litres per day.

However, the Egyptian military now has destroyed an estimated 90 percent of the tunnels, causing affordable fuel to plummet to just 20,000 litres per week, in November. On November 1, Gaza’s power plant ran out of fuel and the result was predictable, and oh so preventable.

It caused power outages averaging 16 hours a day, making it difficult for children to study, families to maintain their incomes, and physicians to provide medical care. Hospitals’ back-up generators are reportedly running at full capacity and will soon run out of fuel. “Repeated outages threaten to suspend the work of 88 kidney dialysis machines,” Gaza’s Health Minister Mufid al-Mekhalilati told a press conference.

This will ultimately deprive 476 kidney failure patients of medical treatment, and prevent the operation of 113 incubators, 45 surgical suites and numerous caesarean birth rooms, blood banks and laboratories.

Moving an ill woman to a safer place. Photo fromPalestine Today agency.

It led to sewage overflows, such as the one that occurred on November 13, when a large pumping station failed south of Gaza City, spewing more than 35,000 cubic metres of filth into the streets. Some 3,000 residents were forced to wade through sewage on the way to work or school.

The power plant shutdown has also resulted in increasingly polluted, unhealthy water. Even before the current crisis, approximately 90 million litres of raw or partially treated sewage were dumped into the sea every day, due to a shortage of fuel needed to run wastewater-treatment facilities. Since the power plant shutdown, however, even more raw sewage is being dumped – putting residents at risk of illnesses such as dysentery and severe diarrhoea.

In general, there have been shortages of water, no matter what the quality. An estimated 65 percent of Gaza’s population receives running water in their homes just once every three or four days.

Clamouring to be heard

For months, Gazans have been clamouring for attention and action – launching a petition to the Egyptian government to permanently and reliably open its Rafah Crossing into the strip (which has to date attracted more than 10,000 signatures), and forming an Intifada Youth Coalition to challenge both the Israeli and Egyptian closure of their sea lanes. On November 30, hundreds of children in Gaza launched their own “mini arks” into the harbour, in a symbolic gesture to call for the freedom to travel and export.

Now, finally, the international community is beginning to shift a bit of its attention from Syria and Iran to Gaza – as if the global conscience is a large pie that can be divvied up into a limited number of pieces. Amnesty International issued its alert; Turkey has pledged $850,000; fuel deliveries by the UN have started; and Qatar is pledging to either pay the Palestinian Authority to buy fuel from Israel and deliver it to Gaza, or ship fuel from Qatar via Israel’s Ashdod port, which the PA would deliver to the coastal enclave. Late last month, an aid convoy carrying medicine, medical equipment and canned food, was reportedly permitted to enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing for the first time since June.

But these actions are letting Israel and Egypt off the hook – particularly Israel, which has a special responsibility as an occupying power. And they are, at best, merely band-aids that will lull the broader world back into complacency and leave the Gazans to continue living in what has come to be known as the “world’s largest prison”.

One year ago this month, I travelled to Gaza in the immediate aftermath of “Operation Pillar of Cloud” – the eight-day assault that killed 171 Palestinians, including 100 civilians, and destroyed or severely damaged 439 homes and 233 public facilities. I wrote then that “finally, Palestinians are feeling as if they are having their day in the sun”.

One day in the sun

First, Egypt intervened to help force Israel to end its attack just eight days after it began, agreeing to a ceasefire that actually offered some significant concessions. Then, a Palestinian state received overwhelming acceptance from the United Nations General Assembly, with the United States, Israel and Canada clearly alone and anachronistic. Meanwhile, Hamas and Fatah – the two warring Palestinian political parties – came together in what seemed like a real spirit of unity. “A huge victory for Palestine, after a big victory for Gaza! We are all one… our time is now!” wrote one young Gazan on his Facebook wall.

Unfortunately, it was indeed just a day in the sun. The world looked away, as usual, and within three months, the Israeli military had committed more than 800 violations of the ceasefire agreement (compared to just two by Palestinians), according to data collected by the UN, the Israeli Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement (GISHA), the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, and Israeli and Palestinian media outlets.

Several months later, a new regime assumed control of Egypt that actually seems worse than former dictator Hosni Mubarak, if that is possible – not only sealing the border still tighter, but removing the one outside party that had been able to bring both Hamas and Fatah to the negotiating table. And while US Secretary of State John Kerry has revived talks designed to bring an end to the decades-old Israeli control of Palestinian land and people, the plight of Gaza has warranted nary a mention.

Yes, the 1.7 million Palestinians of Gaza need immediate relief from the shortage of fuel and other vital supplies. But what they need and want most is sustained international attention and action to bring about a more permanent solution that will free them from their dependence on handouts, allow them to support themselves through exports, and nurture a future generation of talent by enabling them to travel to attend school and form connections.

If the communities of activists and relief workers don’t keep sustained pressure on politicians to require both Israel and Egypt to honour the Geneva Convention’s prohibition against collective punishment, Gaza (and the broader Palestinian Territories) will continue to careen from crisis to crisis – until a catastrophe so massive occurs that it forces us all to say, “How could we let that happen on our watch?”

Pam Bailey is a freelance journalist and activist who has lived and worked in the Gaza Strip.

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