Rory McCarthy | The Guardian
18 September 2009
A leaked UN report has warned that Israel’s continued economic blockade of Gaza and lengthy delays in delivering humanitarian aid are “devastating livelihoods” and causing gradual “de-development”.
For more than two years, Gaza has been under severe Israeli restrictions, preventing all exports and confining imports to a limited supply of humanitarian goods.
Now, eight months after the end of the Gaza war, much reconstruction work is still to be done because materials are either delayed or banned from entering the strip.
The UN report, obtained by the Guardian, reveals the delays facing the delivery of even the most basic aid. On average, it takes 85 days to get shelter kits into Gaza, 68 days to deliver health and paediatric hygiene kits, and 39 days for household items such as bedding and kitchen utensils.
Among the many items delayed are notebooks and textbooks for children returning to school. As many as 120 truckloads of stationery were “stranded” in the West Bank and Israel due to “ongoing delays in approval”.
There were “continued difficulties” in importing English textbooks for grades four to nine – affecting 130,000 children – and material used to print textbooks for several subjects in grades one to nine.
Government schools were reported to lack paper and chalk, while the UN Relief and Works Agency, which supports Palestinian refugees and runs many schools in Gaza, was still waiting to import 4,000 desks and 5,000 chairs.
The UN says the current situation “contravenes” a UN security council resolution passed during the war in January, which called for “unimpeded provision and distribution” of humanitarian aid for Gaza.
“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,” says the report from the UN Office of the Humanitarian Co-ordinator.
According to UN statistics, around 70% of Gazans live on less than a dollar a day, 75% rely on food aid and 60% have no daily access to water. As many as 20,000 Palestinians are still displaced after the war, most living with relatives or renting apartments.
Among the most urgent needs is glass to repair shattered windows before the winter rains. Glass, along with other construction materials, is one of the many items banned by Israel from entering the strip. The UN also wanted to deliver agricultural products to reach farmers in time for their main planting season over the next few months. Industrial fuel was required for the power plant, along with bank notes for aid projects and salaries.
In June and July, there was a slight relaxation of the restrictions, allowing in small amounts of agricultural fertilizers, glass, aluminium, cattle and tools for repairing houses. Plastic pipes have been allowed in but only 69% of the water network that was damaged during the war has so far been repaired.
The UN said that, despite this “ad hoc” easing of the blockade, it found “no significant improvement in the quantity and scope of goods allowed into Gaza”. Imports are 80% down on the period before the blockade, and most of what does enter Gaza is from a narrow range of food and hygiene items.
Israel began putting restrictions on Gaza after Hamas won the Palestinian elections in early 2006, and imposed the blockade in June 2007 after the party seized control of the strip.
Egypt has also kept its border with Gaza largely closed, though growing quantities of goods, including fridges and even small cars, are smuggled in from Egypt through tunnels. The UN said the high cost of these goods meant that only wealthier Gazans benefitted, with “little trickle-down effect for the vast majority of the population”.
A spokesman for Israel’s co-ordinator of government activities in the territories did not respond to calls for comment yesterday. The Israeli military sends journalists near-daily text messages noting the number of delivery trucks scheduled to enter Gaza.
On most working days, between 70 and 100 trucks are due to cross – a number which aid agencies say is still well short of that required. The average flow of 9,500 trucks a month entering Gaza in late 2005 was also considered insufficient.
In July this year, only 2,231 trucks crossed the blockade.