Palestinian territories: UN health agency warns of looming crisis due to funds cut-off

14 June 2006 – Calling for urgent action to avert a health crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory following the recent cut-off of donor aid after the formation of the new Hamas government, the United Nations health agency has said an interim mechanism is needed at once to prevent disruption of basic services.

“A more elaborate proposal will be developed with partners in the next two weeks,” the UN World Health Organization (WHO) added in its latest update on the situation following a meeting on Monday with staff from the Palestinian Health Ministry, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRAW), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the World Bank, donors and other agencies.

Due to the funding crisis, medical staff have not received salaries since March. Absenteeism among health workers is reportedly on the rise. Primary health care centres and hospitals are running out of essential drugs. Several areas are experiencing fuel shortages and are thus unable to provide normal vaccination services, WHO said.

With donors balking at funding the Hamas Government unless it commits to non-violence, recognizes Israel and accepts previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map plan for a two-State solution, the so-called diplomatic Quartet last month also called for a temporary mechanism to funnel aid directly to the Palestinian people.

No such mechanism is yet in place.

The Quartet – the UN, European Union, Russia and the United States – are sponsoring the Road Map plan for a two-State solution, with both Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace. Hamas has rejected this.

Since the Hamas victory in January elections, Israel has also stopped the transfer of Palestinian value added taxes (VAT) and customs taxes it is obligated to pass over, which comprise around 50 per cent of the budget of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

“The crisis is seriously affecting the ability of the Palestinian Ministry of Health to deliver critical health care services and maintain public health programmes,” WHO said, noting that the Health Ministry is responsible for more than 60 per cent of all primary health care centres and hospital beds and for almost half of all maternity beds.

It is also responsible for most public health programmes. In several governorates, it is the sole health service provider. “These vital services must be maintained if a humanitarian health crisis is to be averted,” WHO added.

Just last Friday, a senior UNRWA official warned that vital public services are in danger of collapsing if a solution is not found soon. “We urgently need to get the funding mechanism, promised by the Quartet a month ago, operational now,” the Agency’s Director of Operations for Gaza John Ging said.

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