Tuesday, April 04, 2006

un aid workers: Gaza on verge of disaster

UN aid workers: Gaza on verge of disaster
By Akiva Eldar
United Nations aid organizations are warning that the Gaza Strip is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster due to a lack of money and food. David Shearer, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told Foreign Ministry officials that if there is no significant change in the situation, Gaza will face a humanitarian crisis as bad as the one in Kosovo.
A report by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) warns of a lack of basic food supplies due to the frequent closures of the Karni crossing that are preventing goods from reaching Gaza from Egypt. The report also said there has been a significant increase in the number of hungry people since financial aid has been halted. World Bank statistics show that if there is no dramatic change, 75 percent of Palestinians will be below the poverty line within two years. The current rate is 56 percent, compared to 22 percent in 2000. An Israeli security official said, "Israel is aware of the difficulties, and an effort is being made to find solutions without violating the decision not to be in contact with the Hamas government. The possibility of transferring funds via the office of the [Palestinian] presidency to the regional rulers who are directly subject to Abu Mazen is being examined. "In such a situation," he continued, "a certain amount of contact will be maintained with the Palestinian security services by creating channels between the Israel Defense Forces and the national security. Israel is aware of the humanitarian problems and does not want such a crisis." In the last two months, as a protest against the Hamas government, Israel has been withholding the transfer of some NIS 200 million a month in tax funds to the Palestinian Authority, and the United States and several other countries have frozen monthly financial aid payments coming to some $45 million. UNRWA officials are concerned that PA workers have not received their salaries this month, due to Israel withholding the tax money. The United Nations estimates that 37 percent of employed people in the Gaza Strip - more than 73,000 people - work for the PA. Basic needsUNRWA commissioner-general Karen Koning Abu Zayd told Haaretz that if the PA workers stop receiving their salaries, the UN organization will have a hard time coping with even the most basic needs of refugees. Abu Zayd expects 25,000 families will be added to the food distribution list and said UNRWA is lacking nearly $120 million of the $457.9 million it needs to fund basic needs. Out of the $150 million needed for projects, such as building schools, the organization has received only $14.3 million, she said. There is also a public health issue facing the Palestinians in Gaza, according to the UNRWA report: Some 850,000 fowl are suspected of having contracted bird flu. Donor nations have yet to transfer in full the money allotted to fight the virus. But the threat is not limited to the Palestinians. A report released last month by Stratfor, a consulting agency that provides intelligence assessments on world issues, noted that it is places such as the Gaza Strip where the bird pandemic is mostly to mutate into a flu that affects humans. The OCHA report, meanwhile, states that if the Palestinian Authority loses its sources of income due to the boycott on donations and the checkpoints remain closed to Palestinian goods, the PA's gross national product is expected to go down by at least a quarter.


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