Following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Israel has imposed an unprecedented blockade on all border crossings in and out of the Gaza Strip. The blockade has ‘locked in’ 1.5 million people in what is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, triggering a protracted human dignity crisis with negative humanitarian consequences. At the heart of this crisis is the degradation in the living conditions of the population, caused by the erosion of livelihoods and the gradual decline in the state of infrastructure, and the quality of vital services in the areas of health, water and sanitation, and education. The blockade resulted in:
The devastation of livelihoods
• The lack of essential imports, including raw materials, coupled with the ban on exports, has decimated economic activity in the private sector and resulted in the loss of approximately 120,000 jobs. Over 40 percent of Gaza’s workforce, or more than 140,000 people, are currently unemployed.
• The local market has been saturated with previously exported agricultural products (mainly cut flowers, strawberries and cherry tomatoes), reducing the income of producers. Approximately 3,500 households were negatively impacted by Israeli-imposed restrictions on fishing in the sea of Gaza. Such restrictions significantly reduced the volume of the fishing catch and subsequent income of fishermen in Gaza.
Rising food insecurity:
• Approximately 75 percent of Gaza’s population (more than 1.1 million people) is food insecure, up from 56 percent in the first quarter of 2008.4 The main causes of food insecurity are the increase in poverty, the destruction of agricultural assets and the inflation in prices of key food items.
• There has been a gradual shift in the diet of Gazans from high-cost and protein-rich foods such as fruit, vegetables and animal products,to low-cost and high carbohydrate foods such as cereals, sugar and oil, which can lead to micro-nutrient deficiencies, particularly among children and pregnant women.
• The reported number of Palestinian fatalities during “Cast Lead” ranges from 1,116 (IDF) to 1,455 (Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza). Based on the cross-checking of multiple fatality lists, OCHA has identified the records of 1,383 Palestinians, including 333 children whose death was confirmed by at least two independent sources; a significant proportion of these fatalities were civilians not involved in the hostilities.
• At least 360 people were killed since 15 May 2007 (one month before the Hamas take over) in the context of inter-factional violence. Individuals suspected of affiliation with opposition factions have allegedly been the victims of arbitrary arrests, torture and extra-judiciary executions.
Inability to reconstruct
• The ban on the import of building materials has prevented the reconstruction of most of the 3,540homes destroyed and the 2,870 homes severely damaged during the last military offensive. No new construction for 7,500 planned housing units to cater for Gaza’s rapidly expanding population has been possible due to the lack of building materials available in Gaza.
• More than 20,000 displaced people are forced to continue living in rented apartments, in the houses of relatives and in tents next to their damaged houses. Additionally a small number of families continue to live in tented camps. The lives of these displaced families have been disrupted with children being among the worst affected.
A protracted energy crisis
• The reduction in the amounts of industrial fuel allowed entry has forced Gaza’s sole power plant to reduce its level of production, creating a 15-20 percent electricity deficit. Ninety percent of the population currently experience scheduled electricity power cuts of 4-8 hours a day. The remaining 10 percent have no electricity supply due to the lack of construction materials needed to maintain and repair the network.
• In the extreme heat of summer, families are forced to leave food without refrigeration for hours; public institutions have to rely extensively on backup generators, causing problems as a result of the inconsistent supply of spare parts.
The deterioration of water and sanitation infrastructure
• Some 10,000 people in northern Gaza still do not have access to running water due a lack of available building materials to maintain and upgrade the wastewater infrastructure.
• As a result of the lack of adequate maintenance and upgrading of the wastewater infrastructure, 80 million liters of raw and partially-treated sewage are being discharged daily into the environment. This has led to a further pollution of the sea and underground aquifer, creating serious health concerns; only 5-10 percent of the water extracted from Gaza’s aquifer meets the WHO safety standards.
A challenged health system
• Follow-up treatment for people suffering from complex injuries and permanent disabilities inflicted during the most recent Israeli offensive has created an enormous burden for a health system weakened by shortages of facilities, equipment, and drugs. The inability of medical staff to upgrade their knowledge and skills due to the continued travel restrictions has significantly undermined the quality of health services in Gaza.
• Patients in need of specialized treatment outside Gaza must go through an arduous and uncertain process to obtain the necessary permits required to leave Gaza, adding considerable anguish and stress to patients’ lives. Since January 2008, 40 percent of the applications for permits to leave Gaza were rejected or delayed, compared to approximately 10 percent in 2006.
• Over-crowding of schools as a result of the inability to expand and repair existing facilities, compounded by the recurrent shortages of educational materials delayed or denied entry at the crossings, and frequent electricity power cuts have contributed to a decline in school attendance and performance. In the first semester of the 2007-2008 school year only 20 percent of sixth graders in Gaza passed standardized exams in math, science, English and Arabic.
• Most students are prevented from accessing universities outside of Gaza due to the strict criteria imposed by the Israeli authorities in relation to the authorization of permits for students to exit Gaza as well as the limited openings of the Rafah crossing. For example between July and September 2008, prior to the beginning of the last academic year, only 70 students managed to leave the Gaza Strip through Israel to attend universities outside Gaza.
For more information please contact Mr. Yehezkel Lein, firstname.lastname@example.org