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A generator used by a medical lab for power during the power cuts, Gaza City, Oct 2013. Photo: William Parry

Humanitarian situation in occupied Palestine worsening

29 November 2013

Three reports this week by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and a press release by the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) and human rights organisations in Gaza address the deteriorating humanitarian conditions Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are subjected to.

Gaza continues to face a growing humanitarian crisis as the fuel shortage and electricity outages continue. PNGO and human rights organisations based in Gaza this week expressed deep concern of “an imminent humanitarian disaster seriously impacting all vital interests of the population, including water and sanitation services, educational services and all daily necessary vital services”.

Gaza’s main power plant shut down on 1 November due to a shortage of fuel. The prolonged shortage has affected the delivery of essential services, which now rely on back-up generators during the power cuts (electricity is available for 6 hours, then out for 12 hours). Gaza’s Ministry of Health (MoH) reports that critical, specialised services – kidney dialysis, operating theatres, blood banks, intensive care units and labs, among others, have been affected by the fuel shortage.

The fuel shortage has affected Gaza’s 291 water and sewage treatment facilities, none of which are functioning properly at present. Consequently, none of the 90 million litres of sewage discharged into the sea is being treated beforehand, and there have been at least 10 incidents this week in which sewage pumping stations have been unable to pump sewage to the respective treatment plants and so had to divert the sewage into open channels, the sea or storm water lagoons. Last week the enclave’s main sewage treatment plant overflowed, affecting 3,000 people.

The availability of clean drinking water, already a long-standing health concern in Gaza, has also worsened due to the fuel crisis. OCHA reports that 40 percent of households in Gaza receive water once every three days for six to eight hours. Many families are having to purchase water from unregulated vendors, where water quality is a concern.

The fuel crisis is also affecting municipalities’ ability to remove the 800 tons of solid waste produced daily, contributing to mounting concerns about the public health impact of the fuel crisis. Some areas have started using donkey carts to remove the rubbish.

There was some limited positive news in the OCHA reports: for the first time since June, Egyptian authorities authorised the entry of 100 tons of medical supplies for the MoH in Gaza. Some 30% of medical supplies entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing prior to the limited closures that were put in place by Egyptian authorities in June. At present, 30% of essential drugs and 52% of medical disposables are at zero stock levels, according to the MoH.

In the West Bank, Ma'an News reported the tragic case of a 14 year old girl who died en route to the hospital this week due to a closed checkpoint. Nour Mohammad Afaneh, 14, was being taken in a critical condition by ambulance to a Bethlehem hospital but the Container checkpoint was closed, forcing the ambulance to try three alternative routes. They tried to then take to hospital in Ramallah, but she died on the way.

OCHA’s October ‘Monthly Report’ notes with concern that the number of Palestinians injured by the Israeli military so far in 2013 in the West Bank is the highest recorded since 2005 – as of 25 November, 3,502 have been injured, almost 500 more than the total number injured in 2012. The report also expresses concern over the rising number of children among the casualties, accounting for nearly a third of those injured. It adds that there has been a significant jump in the number of children younger than 16 who have been injured.

OCHA reports that Israeli authorities demolished 10 Palestinian-owned structures this week, all in Area C, displacing 28 people, including 12 children, in the Jericho area. Israeli authorities issued 42 demolition and stop-work orders this week for residential structures in East Jerusalem and Area C, including 36 residential structures in an area east of Jerusalem, which have been funded by international donors.

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