Creating people's geographies
The siege and economic blockade of Gaza by the rogue state of Israel has been in place for over two years. Eight months after the December-January war, urgent reconstruction work is frozen because materials like glass are blocked by Israel. Severe Israeli restrictions preventing all exports is devastating livelihoods and causing de-development, even humanitarian aid and school materials are blocked, delayed or drastically reduced. The full (leaked) report, obtained by the Guardian who report on it here, can be read in full below through Scrib’d (8pp).
UPDATE: While you can download the .pdf at Scrib’d, the plain text version is scrambled. PULSE has therefore produced its own full text which appears after the fold.
The blockade of Gaza, in place since June 2007, has severely impeded the ability of aid agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance in accordance with humanitarian principles. The situation has been further compounded during and after the military offensive that took place from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009. Early recovery efforts, without which the humanitarian situation will further deteriorate or remain prolonged, are equally impeded.
This situation contravenes Security Council Resolution 1860 which calls for “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment” (1), as well as the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, under which all crossings were to be opened. In response, the UN and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) providing humanitarian assistance in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) developed the Minimum Framework for the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance in Gaza, based on the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence. (2) This report provides an overview of adherence to the Framework, as of 31 August 2009, including the consequences that the lack of adherence to the humanitarian principles has on the population of Gaza.
1. Entry of priority materials: In the short term, the priorities are to: increase the entry of vital agricultural inputs during September and October 2009, so that farmers do not miss the main planting season; and, to process pending requests for education materials to enter, as there is a significant lack of items, such as chalk, notebooks, desks and chairs. The winter season will soon begin, heightening the need for access to materials for shelter reconstruction. The UN continues to work to ensure the restart of previously suspended reconstruction projects across Gaza, the completion of which will have a rapid impact. The entry of glass, which has been barred thus far, is becoming an increasingly urgent need, as shattered windows require repair before winter sets in. Winter rain will also increase the likelihood of sewage and wastewater overflow, increasing the need for essential materials and equipment to repair and maintain water and wastewater infrastructure. Industrial fuel for the Gaza power plant and bank notes, for cash assistance projects and UN, NGO and Palestinian Authority salaries, are other key priorities.
2. Long-term impact (de-development): Despite ad hoc easing of the blockade, there has been no significant improvement in the quantity and scope of goods allowed into Gaza. Imports remain approximately 80 percent below pre-blockade figures, and a narrow range of food and hygiene items continue to make up 80-90 percent of imports. The lack of construction materials, as well as equipment and material necessary for maintenance and repair of public infrastructure, has lead to a process of de-development in the Gaza Strip, which potentially could lead to the complete break-down of public infrastructure and further deterioration in the economy. Recovering from the long-term damage caused in terms of pollution of the aquifer and the sea, potential disuse of agricultural land, increasingly decrepit public infrastructure, and the breakdown of the traditional economic sectors, will be a costly and time-consuming process when the crossings do open.
3. Operational environment: The combined effect of different access and administrative restrictions has resulted in an increasingly limited operational space for humanitarian agencies. These restrictions include:
• heavy additional financial cost to delivery of aid (e.g., procedures put in place after the closure of the main crossing point (Karni) has cost the UN over USD 4.5 million, between September 2008 and June 2009);
• demands for strip searches at Erez crossing point as well as the requirement that aid personnel walk through the crossing, which is a high-risk area;
• administrative delays in receiving permits for staff;
• delays in approving UN armoured vehicles, necessary to maintain and increase operational capacity physical security of aid personnel.
The timely import of sufficient quantities of goods into the Gaza Strip for humanitarian activities — defined by the humanitarian agencies, under the guidance of the Humanitarian Coordinator — needs to be facilitated by the Government of Israel. This includes (…) fuel, cash and materials necessary for the rehabilitation of infrastructure (…). (3)
While the flow of the most basic foodstuffs and urgently needed pharmaceuticals, although subject to prior coordination, are generally entering Gaza, unpredictable and lengthy coordination procedures and restrictions on the kinds of goods allowed entry, hamper the reliable supply of other basic items, such as shelter kits (average delay 85 days), health and paediatric hygiene kits (average delay 68 days) and household items, such as bedding and kitchen utensils (average delay 39 days). (4) Because of the number of items banned, basic foodstuffs occupy a larger proportion of total imports than would be considered normal (74 percent of total imports in June and July 2009, compared to 17 percent before the blockade, when construction material represented 54 percent of imports to Gaza). (5)
Some easing on the types of goods allowed entry was evident during June and July 2009, with small quantities of agricultural fertilizers, glass, aluminium, house repair tools and cattle permitted entry. Imports of plastic pipes have been sufficient to allow 69 percent of the damage inflicted on the water network during the recent military operations to be repaired. The World Bank has recently been allowed entry of a small amount of materials to start repairs on parts of the Beit Lahia Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The easing of entry of the above mentioned goods has not, however, had a significant impact when compared to the extensive reconstruction needs on the ground. At the time of the signing of the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) between Israel and the PA in 2005, imports were considered to be below needs, with a monthly average of 9,470 trucks in the six months preceding the agreement. The monthly average of imports allowed into Gaza during June and July 2009 (2,406 trucks) represented a 75 percent reduction, compared to the pre-AMA levels, and was 80 percent below the monthly average prior to the start of the blockade in June 2007 (12,352 trucks). The number of truckloads that crossed in July 2009 (2,231 trucks) was the lowest for a single month since December 2008. The result is a gradual process of de-development across all sectors, devastating livelihoods, increasing unemployment and resulting in increased aid dependency amongst the population. The Palestinian Trade Centre estimates that the blockade of imports and exports has resulted in the loss of 120,000 jobs in Gaza. (6) Currently, some 70 percent of the population lives on less than one dollar a day (7) and 75 percent of the population is food insecure and receiving food aid, compared to 56 percent in 2008. (8)
The prolonged closure of the only crossing that previously allowed bulk import in containers (Karni crossing), along with restrictions put in place at the alternative crossing points, and, in particular, the lack of clarity on procedures and time consumed when negotiating for individual items to be allowed entry, are creating significant additional costs to humanitarian operations. Between September 2008 and June 2009, the UN paid more than USD 4.5 million in storage and re-packing costs, reducing availability of funds for humanitarian assistance and undermining the ability to fulfill donor objectives.
Meanwhile, the transfer of goods through the Rafah tunnels under the border between Egypt and Gaza is thriving. With some exceptions, items entering through the tunnels are more expensive than goods previously imported through the official channels, making them unavailable to many of those who need them most. The continued existence of this alternative economy undermines existing businesses and business associations, creates a new economic elite with little trickledown effect for the vast majority of the population, and cannot be a sustainable alternative to the reopening of all crossings into Gaza. The tunnel system also poses a high risk to those working in it. Since 18 January 2009, 47 people have been killed in various tunnel-related incidents.
Graph – see pdf – CARGO (TRUCKLOADS) CLASSIFIED BY TYPE – JUNE & JULY 2009
• Classes resumed in the first week of September, with a significant shortage of notebooks and printing material for text books, affecting the 240,000 students registered in governmental schools. In UNRWA schools, 81 percent of required textbooks have been issued, but there are continued difficulties in importing grade 4-9 English textbooks for around 130,000 children, and printing material for printing of textbooks on assorted subjects for grades 1- 9. Governmental schools are also lacking other education materials, including paper and chalk, while UNRWA is awaiting authorization for the import of desks for 4,000 students and chairs for 5,000 teachers. 120 truckloads of stationery are currently stranded in the West Bank and Israel, due to ongoing delays in approval.
• Farmers are at risk of not being able to plant their crops during the main planting season of September-October, unless imports of seeds, fertilizer, plastic sheeting and nets for greenhouses are allowed to enter. The livelihoods of an estimated 10,000 farming families, approximately 65,500 people, may be affected. (9) In addition, lack of material and equipment for rehabilitation of land also undermines the potential for early recovery of the agricultural sector.
• Due to the blockade, there is a frequent shortage of veterinary drugs, increasing the risk of animals carrying and spreading disease, a risk increased by the lack of maintenance of infrastructure necessary to meet biosafety standards. The risk for transmission of diseases within Gaza and beyond, including transmission from animals to humans, escalates during the winter months. Smuggling of sheep and goats into Gaza through the tunnels, without any veterinary control, heightens this risk.
• The lack of material for 3,000 fishermen (boats, nets, fuel, spare parts, cooking gas for lighting navigation lamps and cold storage equipment) are increasing the production costs and threatening the sustainability of fishing livelihoods.
Equipment to maintain and repair water and wastewater infrastructure and desalination equipment
• 60 percent of the population does not have daily access to water.
• Lack of access to materials for desalination plants and over extraction of the aquifer has resulted in the tap water in Gaza being too salty to drink. (10) As a coping mechanism, people in Gaza are buying desalinated water from small-scale local water desalination operators that are not monitored or held to basic health and safety standards. This raises concerns about public health and safety. Random sampling carried out by international NGOs showed faecal bacteria in several of the samples.
• Upgrades to the four key wastewater treatment plants have been put on hold as a result of import restrictions, leading to pollution both of the aquifer — Gaza’s only natural source of drinking water — and the sea. 90-95 percent of water in the aquifer already falls below the WHO safety standards for human consumption, while some 50-80 million litres of untreated and partially treated waste-water is being discharged into the sea daily. The World Bank has recently been granted entry of small amounts of construction materials to enable the repair of parts of the Beit Lahia Wastewater Treatment Plant.
• The most common infectious diseases affecting the Gaza refugee population are related to lack of safe water (watery diarrhoea, acute bloody diarrhoea and viral hepatitis). (11) While this was also the case prior to the blockade, lack of access for water and sanitation material means that the situation cannot be addressed and is therefore likely to deteriorate.
• The entry restrictions also prevent repairs to agricultural wells and irrigation systems – negatively impacting livelihoods and food security.
• Gradual deterioration of the water infrastructure has caused a rise in the level of water lost from the network, from 30 per cent in 2004 to 47 per cent in 2009. (12)
Cement, construction material
• Approximately 20,000 people remain displaced as a result of the devastation caused by the most recent military offensive. The majority of the displaced are living in rented apartments or with relatives, while approximately 650 people live in tents or pre-fabricated container homes next to their damaged houses, and approximately 260 people live in tent camps.
• 6,345 houses are in need of major repair or total reconstruction as a result of the most recent military offensive, while 52,885 houses need minor repairs. This comes in addition to 8,886 houses needing repair or reconstruction after previous military operations and to replace unsanitary and derelict refugee shelters. Three hospitals, five health clinics, and 114 schools need major repair or complete reconstruction, while five hospitals, 18 health clinics, 254 schools, and 23 kindergartens need minor repairs (figures inclusive of pre-blockade needs).
Industrial fuel, material and equipment for maintenance of the electricity network
• The amount of industrial fuel entering Gaza to enable the operation of the sole power plant remains below needs (approximately 2.2 million litres per week, compared to the 2.9 million litres routinely requested). This, combined with lack of spare parts to repair the power network, results in reduced operational capacity of the wastewater treatment plants and further necessitates that health facilities rely heavily on back-up generators, compromising health care provision.
• Due to restrictions on the entry of cash into Gaza, a number of cash grants for social hardship cases were delayed by up to three months, and as at the end of July, cash transfers for UN operations were 46 percent below requirements.
All patients requiring medical referrals [with]in and out of Gaza must be guaranteed timely and unhindered access to adequate treatment 
• 413 patients missed scheduled appointments in June and July 2009 and had to re-schedule their appointments because their applications to the Israeli authorities to exit Gaza for medical treatment were not processed in time.
• During June and July, 974 patients (69 percent of those applying for permits) exited via Erez to access medical treatment in Israel, East Jerusalem or Jordan. While 559 patients exited Gaza via Rafah for treatment in Egypt in June, Rafah was closed to medical evacuations during all of July.
• Since 1 June 2009, four patients have died whilst waiting for access to medical facilities outside Gaza. (14)
Graph: MEDICAL REFERRALS THROUGH EREZ
Approved 69% Denied 2% Pending 29%
Assistance will be delivered in a neutral and impartial manner. Supplies and materials must be distributed by the humanitarian agencies and their partners without interference. (15)
• There have been several incidents of threats made against NGOs by Hamas ministries, if they do not submit detailed information about their employees (beyond the information already provided to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, including salary information).
• In one reported incident in June, 674 hygiene kits procured by a local NGO for humanitarian distribution were seized by a crowd of people, including some members of the municipal authorities and local police, and re-distributed to a different group of beneficiaries than the ones intended.
• Restrictions placed by some donors on the interaction between NGOs and the de facto authorities, Hamas, are constraining the operational capacity of such organizations, including the neutral and impartial selection of beneficiaries. For example, organizations wishing to improve the deteriorating water and sanitation facilities at Gaza schools are not able to consider public schools for assistance, since these are administered by Hamas. The same applies to basic social services requiring the support of municipal authorities.
All staff of UN agencies, [NGOs and other international organisations] providing humanitarian assistance should be afforded unimpeded access into and movement within the Gaza Strip, (…) regardless of the nationality of staff. (16)
• In one incident in June, health personnel of an international NGO were shot at by Israeli troops whilst visiting a patient, located close to the border fence with Israel. Fear of entering the buffer zone is hampering the work of aid organizations, especially in the agricultural sector.
• Consultants to the UN, personnel seconded to the UN by Member States or INGOs, and all INGO staff, are required to walk through the Erez crossing and through an open stretch to the Hamsa-Hamsa checkpoint, where they can be picked up by vehicles. This poses a significant security risk for humanitarian agencies, given the risk of kidnappings and the potential for cross-fire.
• In cases where access through Erez for Palestinian staff is approved, they are generally questioned by the Israeli authorities. For example, UN national staff exiting through Erez in June were held for up to two hours for questioning and, in May, one UN staff member was detained for questioning over several days after having been invited to a meeting with the Israeli authorities to discuss access of humanitarian goods to Gaza. Many medical patients are also subject to questioning.
• In ten separate incidents in July and August, nine international humanitarian staff (Japanese, Irish, Norwegian, Spanish, UK, and US nationals) were requested to strip to their underwear and have their clothes scanned when passing through the Erez crossing. Requests made by the staff, for something to cover themselves with while their clothes were scanned, were denied by the Israeli authorities.
• Only 16 international UN staff members based in Gaza, which includes the most senior diplomatic staff, are currently allowed to drive vehicles through Erez, without being asked to waive the UN Privileges and Immunities, severely restricting the access of humanitarian personnel. (17)
• For those who are allowed to cross in vehicles, movement through the checkpoint takes place in ‘soft-skin’ (non-armoured) vehicles because of Israeli restrictions on the importation of armoured cars. Movement within the Gaza Strip is also limited, as the UN awaits the delivery of seventeen armoured vehicles — necessary for staff safety and security in light of kidnapping and cross-fire risks — that have been denied entry since March 2009. During this time, they have incurred over USD 215,000, equivalent to the cost of at least two additional vehicles, in storage fees at Ben Gurion Airport and at Ashdod port.
The below charts show the June-July 2009 approval status for Palestinian UN and INGO officials seeking to travel into and out of Gaza to attend to official business. Undue delay in responding to requests is effectively denying access for many staff members, as shown in the percentage of pending requests below. Some of the applications still pending date back to 2 June 2009.
INGO NATIONAL STAFF PERMITS FOR EREZ
UN NATIONAL STAFF PERMITS FOR EREZ
1. S/RES/1860 (2009)
2. The Framework outlines how the globally accepted humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence should be applied in the specific context of Gaza. These principles were endorsed by the 194 States Parties to the Geneva Conventions, including Israel. They were also recognized by the UN General Assembly (GA Res 46/182 of 19 December 1991 and 58/114 of 17 December 2003). A first version of the Framework was shared with relevant partners, including the Government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and humanitarian donors and a final version was endorsed by the HCT on 30 April 2009.
3. Minimum Framework for the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance in Gaza, HCT oPt, April 2009.
4. UN OCHA, Consolidated figures for 2009.
5. Special Report: Gaza Strip Two Years through Siege, Palestine Trade Centre, 2009.
6. Special Report: Gaza Strip Two Years through Siege, Palestine Trade Centre, 2009.
7. ICRC Household Survey, May 2008. This is an increase in poverty levels from 2007 prior to the blockade, when 52 percent of people in Gaza lived on less than three US dollars a day according to PCBS.
8. UN OCHA, Locked In: the Humanitarian Impact of Two Years of Blockade on Gaza, August 2009.
9. In the second half of July, seven truckloads of flower seedlings and part of fertilizers and pesticides for a Dutch-funded project were allowed entry. The project will benefit a total of 56 carnation farmers, if and when a remaining 19 truckloads are granted entry.
10. Gaza WASH Cluster update, 21 July 2009.
11. Fact Sheet: The impact of the blockade on water and sanitation in Gaza. oPt WASH Cluster, 3 September 2009.
12. Fact Sheet: The impact of the blockade on water and sanitation in Gaza. oPt WASH Cluster, 3 September 2009.
13. Minimum Framework for the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance in Gaza, HCT oPt, April 2009.
14. World Health Organisation, oPt. All four deaths occurred in June. Between Oct 07 and June 09, 81 patients died whilst waiting for access to medical facilities outside Gaza.
15. Minimum Framework for the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance in Gaza, HCT oPt, April 2009.
16. Minimum Framework for the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance in Gaza, HCT oPt, April 2009.
17. The 1946 Convention on UN Privileges and Immunities, to which Israel is a party, requires all state signatories to refrain from searching or otherwise interfering with UN property. By asking UN staff (other than the 16 mentioned above) to submit to searches of UN vehicles, Israeli authorities are effectively asking individual staff members to waive their rights under the Convention — a power that rests exclusively with the UN Secretary-General. The 16 internationals, who drive through Erez without being asked to submit their vehicles to searches, include the most senior UN staff, such as the Commissioner General of UNRWA.