25-01-2008  Interview  

Gaza: humanitarian situation remains critical

The crossing into Egypt of hundreds of thousands of Gazans desperate to stock up on basic supplies is a dramatic illustration of their deprivation over the last seven months according to the ICRC's Head of Operations for the Middle East, Béatrice Megevand-Roggo. The ICRC continues to insist that the basic needs of Gaza's population must be met in the long run to prevent more hardship.

How would you describe the current humanitarian situation in Gaza?

The humanitarian situation remains critical. Our delegates in Gaza say that the population's rush to stock up on food, fuel and medicines in Egypt is a dramatic illustration of the deprivation they've had to endure over the past seven months.

Gaza has been increasingly closed off from the outside world since June 2007, resulting in a severe shortage of basic supplies. Months of trade restrictions on imported goods have left the population highly vulnerable and recent events have threatened their humanitarian situation even further.

The infrastructure is close to collapse and humanitarian efforts are being severely hampered, and in some cases stopped altogether, by stringent rules and entry procedures imposed by the Israeli authorities at the few entry points to the territory.

What impact has the Rafah border opening had on conditions in the territory? 

According to the United Nations (UNRWA), almost half of the population of Gaza has crossed into Egypt , via the Rafah border, since 23 January. The opening of the crossing has offered some breathing space for Gazans, who are also using this opportunity to seek medical care in hospitals in Cairo and organize meetings with family members in the region.

Our team on the ground says that there has been some improvement in access to electricity for homes, shops, water pumping stations and hospitals in Gaza City, but private vehicles are rare on the city's streets because of fuel shortages, as well as a heavy flow of traffic between Gaza and Egypt. Children, who need transportation in order to get to school, have been unable to attend classes, with an absence rate of around 45 per cent reported on 24 January.

On 22 January, fuel shipments were allowed at Nahel Oz crossing point, but only 13 trucks carrying humanitarian food items were able to cross into Gaza at Kerem Shalom, which is significantly less than the daily authorized quota of 50 trucks. That crossing included one ICRC truck containing 40 m3 of urgently needed essential drugs and disposable items.

While it's been encouraging to see the partial re-opening of two crossing points controlled by Israel's Defense Forces, we're concerned that this will not be enough to ensure the regular supply of drugs and essential medical materials to Gaza's health care providers. Fuel shortages are also a continual concern for hospitals.

What needs to change, according to the ICRC? 

We insist that the delivery of essential humanitarian goods must be secured in the long run to prevent more hardship for the population. We have called on all responsible authorities to open the crossing points in a consistent way to ensure that the basic needs of the Gaza population are met.

The full closure of the Strip from 17 to 22 January has added to what was already a dire situation. This is why the ICRC is reiterating the necessity to go back to the same levels of access for humanitarian goods and personnel, which existed before June 2007.

The ICRC is also reiterating its call for Israel to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law, and for the Palestinian factions to stop targeting civilian areas and endangering the lives of civilians.

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