Humanitarian Bulletin occupied Palestinian territory - July 2018
Israel’s blockade on Gaza tightened: further import restrictions, a suspension of exports, and a reduction of the accessible fishing area.
The 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan is only 24 per cent funded, an all-time low, forcing agencies to scale down interventions.
Over 100 million litres of poorly-treated sewage discharged into the sea every day, posing serious health and environmental hazards for Gaza’s population.
Herding communities in, or next to, a “firing zone” in eastern Nablus governorate face an increasingly coercive environment due to various Israeli practices.
In July, Israel tightened its longstanding blockade on the Gaza Strip, worsening the already desperate humanitarian situation. Measures adopted by the Israeli authorities included restricting imports to mainly food and medicine; a complete halt to the exit of all goods; and a reduction of the fishing area from six to three nautical miles from Gaza’s coast. The entry of fuel and cooking gas was also suspended during July for over one week, and again since 2 August (ongoing as of the time of writing). By the end of the month, the Palestinian Federation of Industries in Gaza indicated that over 4,000 workers in the construction sector had been temporarily laid off, primarily due to the shortage of construction materials.
These restrictions were reportedly imposed in response to the continuous launching of incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza towards Israel that have resulted in some 1,200 fires to date on agricultural land and nature reserves. This practice, along with the ongoing demonstrations and clashes at the perimeter fence and several limited military escalations, have brought Israel and Hamas to the brink of a new round of full-scale hostilities. In July alone, 21 Palestinians, of them 14 civilians, including seven children, as well as one Israeli soldier, were killed (or died of wounds sustained earlier), in conflict-related incidents in the Gaza Strip and Israel. While a major escalation was averted following ad hoc ceasefires brokered by the UN and Egypt, tensions remain high.
In the meantime, living conditions in Gaza continue to deteriorate under the impact of the severe electricity shortage that causes an average of 20 hours of blackout daily. This Bulletin highlights the effect on already overloaded and poorly maintained wastewater treatment plants: over 100 million litres of poorly treated sewage are discharged into the sea every day, posing serious health and environmental hazards. This is of particular concern during the summer when swimming in the sea is one of the few recreational activities available to the population of Gaza.
To avert the collapse of essential services in Gaza, including hospitals, water and sewage treatment facilities, the UN has been providing some 250 critical facilities with emergency fuel to operate backup generators. However, funds for fuel purchases are depleted and without new donations, distributions will be halted by mid-August: US$4.5 million are required to cover the purchase of fuel through the end of 2018. As highlighted by the Humanitarian Coordinator, Jamie McGoldrick, in his 7 August statement: “Gaza desperately needs longer-term solutions so we can move past this cycle of repeated or worsening crises, including that Palestinian authorities prioritize provision of fuel for essential services. Until that happens, Israel must reverse the recent restrictions, including on the entry of emergency fuel, and donors must step in and fund emergency fuel, in order to avoid a disease outbreak or other major public health concern.”
As described later in this Bulletin, this is just one of the many existing and potential impacts of the severe underfunding of humanitarian operations across the oPt: at the end of July, only 24 per cent of the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) requirements had been funded, well below the global average of 36 per cent. The decline in funding for UNRWA has been the largest factor behind the overall drop in HRP funding. The Agency has been forced to discontinue a number of programs in the West Bank and to adjust key interventions in Gaza, including food and cash assistance for over one million refugees.
A number of other UN agencies and international NGOs also face critical shortfalls in funding that leave humanitarian partners ill-positioned to meet emerging needs or respond to any deterioration.
In recent months, humanitarian operations in the Gaza Strip have also faced tightening restrictions on the movement of humanitarian staff by the Israeli authorities, citing security concerns and, to a lesser extent, Hamas. This Bulletin describes how the Israeli authorities have extended the processing period for exit permits, increased denials and one-year bans, placed restrictions on the items allowed to be taken out of Gaza and introduced new crossing procedures at the vehicle terminal.
Two announcements during the month have shed some positive light on the otherwise grim situation prevailing in Gaza. UNDP announced initiatives aimed at creating over 2,500 immediate and short-term job opportunities in Gaza over a 12-month period, particularly benefitting youth and women. Also, the World Bank’s Board recommended an increase from $55 to $90 million in its allocation for development interventions in Gaza, with focus on job creation in the private sector.
In his briefing to the Security Council on 24 July, the UN Special Coordinator, Nickolay Mladenov, stressed that in Gaza: “Unless we begin in earnest the crucial work required to change the current deteriorating dynamics, another explosion is almost a certainty… The human dimension must be at the forefront of all our efforts. Gazans deserve to live their lives in freedom and dignity. That is their right. It is not a privilege that can be taken hostage, that can be granted or withheld by others who have no regard for their suffering. Israelis living near Gaza also deserve to finally be free of indiscriminate attacks, be it by rockets, mortars or incendiary devices. Another missed opportunity could have disastrous consequences, including for reaching a broader Israeli-Palestinian peace on the basis of the two-state solution, in which Gaza is an integral part of the future Palestinian state.”