The serious and mounting humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza may quickly spiral out of control unless Israel soon lifts or significanly eases its closure regime, concluded Catherine Bertini, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s personal humanitarian envoy in the Middle East, in her report.
After two years of violence, inhabitants of the Palestinian-controlled areas suffer from poverty and unemployment, as well as deteriorating health conditions and malnutrition, being denied access to basic services such as health care, education, food and water. The UN envoy attributed the grave crisis to closures imposed by Israel in response to suicide bombings.
"The closures and curfews have severely inhibited the movement of people, goods and services within the West Bank and Gaza, and between the West Bank and Gaza and Israel, Egypt and Jordan," Bertini stated in her report, which was submitted following an eight-day visit the region. "As a result, the Palestinian economy has by and large collapsed."
Releasing the first international economic statistics on the Palestinian economy since Israel reoccupied the West Bank earlier this year, the United Nations reported that rising poverty and unemployment could spell a “human catastrophe” for the region.
Over the past 23 months an economic crisis has been transformed into a humanitarian crisis, asserted Bertini. While over 100,000 Palestinians lost their jobs in Israel, malnutrition rates have increased and currently 22.5 percent of children under five now suffering from chronic or acute malnutrition.
UNSCO estimates that the overall unemployment rate for the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the second quarter of 2002 increased from roughly 36 percent to approximately 50 percent. When the curfews are imposed, unemployment hits 63.3 per cent, while poverty levels have jumped to 70 per cent in the Gaza Strip.
Income losses stand at $7.6 million per day, for a total of almost $3.3 billion since October 2000. Half of the 3.3-million population has had to borrow money to purchase food, while an estimated 1.5 million receive direct food assistance. About 17 percent of households had to sell assets to buy food.
“I am deeply disturbed by the figures,” said UN Special Coordinator Terje Roed-Larsen, “but I am not surprised, given the iron grip that Israel has applied to the West Bank. Aid cannot fill the gap, but without it the economy would collapse,” he warned. “Against this backdrop, and before the eyes of the world, the Palestinian civilian population is scrambling to survive.”
While condemning the “terror attacks by Palestinian groups that prompted Israel’s action,” and reaffirming “the country’s legitimate right to self-defense,” Roed-Larsen asserted that “in the face of the growing human catastrophe, he asked that Israel review the restrictions.”
Although Israel announced "small steps" to alleviate Palestinian economic hardghips, Bertini’s report raises concern that a wide gap exists between official Israeli policy regarding international assistance activities and its implementation on the ground. Urging Israel to allow economic activity in the West Bank and Gaza to resume and release Palestinian Authority money being held.
At the same time, the envoy called on the Palestinian Authority to ensure that its ambulances, supplies and services "are not used for unlawful activities,” such as contraband and attacks on Israeli civilian targets. — (menareport.com)
© 2002 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )