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Update on the Gaza Humanitarian Situation:

March 29, 2010

High unemployment rate, food shortages, poverty, health crisis…

Economy

In Gaza, jobs in the private sector are basically nonexistent, so even though there are goods available to buy, the people do not have money. 80% of the people in Gaza are dependent on outside food aid, either from UNWRA or the World Food Program (WFP).

Irish FM Michael Martin described the Gazan economy as devastated and “only operating at some 10-15 percent of capacity.”

Over one thousand companies have gone out of business since the last Israeli offensive on the territory, Operation Cast Lead (27 December, 2008- 18 January, 2009). Unemployment has risen to over 50%.

Because of the lack of jobs available, some Gazans turn to illegal means. Others work in the tunnel industry which brings goods from Sinai.

Fishing once made up 4% of Gaza’s economy, but has been negatively impacted by the blockade. Fishermen are only allowed to go 3.5 miles away from shore—which severely limits the amount of fish they are able to catch. If they go out past that distance, they will be fired upon by Israeli gunships. The small permitted zone for fishing has become overfished and now fishermen have begun to make the dangerous and illegal trip to Egyptian waters.

People are so desperate for jobs in Gaza that a new industry has sprung up which involves sifting through the rubble of Cast Lead, especially in the northern Gaza Strip, to separate small pebbles and gravel for building roads. They make about 8 dollars a day for this back breaking work which has become necessary due to the face that the Israeli blockade (which began in the middle of 2007) does not allow in adequate materials for rebuilding the infrastructure that they destroyed during Cast Lead.

The World Health Organization (WHO) calls the situation in Gaza currently a “protracted political and socio-economic crisis.”

Health

WHO reports that since Cast Lead, “recent events have resulted in a severe deterioration of the already precarious living conditions of the people in Gaza and have further eroded a weakened health system.”

The situation can be characterized by delays in border-crossing permits for specialized hospital treatment, shortage of medical supplies, improperly trained medical staff as a result of isolation, and damage to health services infrastructure as the main causes of the precarious health situation.

Many specialized treatments, for example complex heart surgery and certain types of cancer treatments, are not available in Gaza and patients are referred to outside hospitals for treatment. But many of the exit permits are denied or delayed arbitrarily by the Israeli authorities and as a result the person misses their appointments and treatment. Many have died while waiting for referral.

1103 applications for patients to cross the Erez border crossing were submitted to the Israeli authorities in December 2009. 21% were denied or delayed, causing them to miss their hospital appointments and restart the referral process from the beginning. Over 27 patients have died while awaiting referral since the beginning of 2009.

The Death of Fidaa Talal Hijjy:

Fidaa Talal Hijjy, 19 years old, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 2007, and was treated at Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Her health deteriorated and she was told she needed a bone marrow transplant, a procedure that is not available in Gaza. Her doctors referred her to Tel HaShomer Hospital in Israel on 20 August 2009 and she obtained a hospital appointment for 23 September 2009 for a transplant.

The District Liaison Office submitted an application for Fidaa to cross Erez on the date of her appointment but the Israeli Authorities did not respond to her application and she lost her appointment with Tel HaShomer Hospital. She secured a new appointment for 20 October 2009 and a new application was submitted to cross Erez. She had no response from the Israeli Authorities. Her health condition deteriorated further. She was given a new appointment at Shneider Hospital in Israel for 9 November 2009 and submitted an urgent application to cross Erez. No response was received.

Fidaa died on 11 November 2009. The Israeli Authorities approved her request on 12 November 2009, three days after her hospital appointment and one day after her death.

This is just one example, of many.

Supplies of drugs and disposable have generally been allowed through the Israeli blockade, although in inadequate quantities. There are also large shortages because of shortfalls in deliveries. Most drugs and disposables supplies are sitting at less than 30% of being fully stocked.

Delays of up to 2-3 months occur on the importation of medical equipment like x-ray machines and electronic devices. Clinical staff are frequently lacking the medical equipment they need. Medical devices are often broken, missing spare parts (which are not allowed through the Israeli blockade) or out of date.

Water and Sanitation

Recently, the salinity and nitrate levels in Gazan water supplies have been increasing due to over-extraction of ground water. Intrusion of salt water is a major concern for the safety of drinking water—especially for children. The underground wall that Egypt is building to stop the tunnel industry is also a concern—because it could cause sea water to enter the underground water supply of Gaza.

The sanitation infrastructure of Gaza was largely destroyed during Cast Lead, and has yet to be fully repaired because the Israeli blockade will not allow in replacement materials and spare parts. This has led to large sewage “lagoons” that sometimes overflow into residential neighborhoods and also into the Mediterranean Sea—causing not only a health crisis, but an environmental one as well.

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