With the Karni commercial crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip still closed, a senior official of the main United Nations agency helping Palestinian refugees warned that the clock is ticking toward a dangerous lack of basic food.
“If Karni remains closed, we are, once again, counting down to a food crisis,” said John Ging, Director of Gaza Operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), on which 765,000 refugees depend for flour, oil, sugar and other basic items.
“The clock is now ticking and distribution will have to be shut down entirely for the second time in less than a month if the crossing does not open immediately,” he added.
UNRWA said that the impending shortages add to the mounting woes facing Palestine refugees living in Gaza, citing the killing of 14 Palestinians over the weekend, protests by refugee farmers who have yet to receive any compensation for their actions against bird flu and widespread public demonstrations protesting the cutting of donor funding.
“From a humanitarian perspective the outlook here in Gaza is bleak at the moment,” Mr. Ging said, warning that UNRWA does not yet have the money to meet today’s needs and is facing a bill of almost $900,000 in penalties for port and other charges arising from the Karni closure.
In Geneva, UNRWA’s Matthias Burchard said that the agency had only received firm pledges of $17.7 million out of $95.5 million requested in an emergency appeal for the West Bank and Gaza this year.
Urgently appealing for donors to provide the needed funding, he said that this shortfall is coming at a time when the international community is looking at UNRWA as a source of stability in the region.
The funding issue was addressed by the diplomatic Quartet dealing with the Middle East situation – the UN, United States, Russia and the EU – in a statement issued on 30 January. The Quartet said it was “inevitable that future assistance to any new government would be reviewed by donors against that government’s commitment to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap” outline peace plan.
Working contacts for programmes of assistance such as UNRWA will continue, while political contacts would be dealt with as they arise, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s spokesman clarified today.