Major shortage of funds for humanitarian assistance in occupied Palestine

United Nations vehicle destroyed by Israeli military in Jenin refugee camp.

May 11, 2002  (Marilyn Robinson)

The number of Palestinians dependent on humanitarian assistance is growing. Almost 40% of the population - or about 1.4 million people - are facing particular hardship and are food insecure. They rely on assistance, mostly food, to supplement their incomes. Of these, around 600,000 people are depending almost entirely on outside aid. This assistance has kept malnutrition rates from soaring in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Adding to this group is a growing number of “new poor” - people who have lost their employment either because of the economic collapse or the closing of access to jobs in Israel - and have now little or no income. This group, around 10% of the Palestinian population or 350,000 people, is slipping rapidly into the food insecure category. Malnutrition in this group in the West Bank has leapt to 9%. As yet aid has not specifically targeted this group but is likely to be needed in the coming months.

Emergency accommodation and re-housing to meet the needs of people whose houses have been demolished is becoming an increasing priority. Since September 2000, approximately 18,838 people lost their homes in the Gaza Strip. In the first 10 days of May 2004, the Israeli Defence Forces demolished, or damaged beyond repair, 131 residential buildings in the Gaza Strip rendering 1,100 people newly homeless. The majority of the demolitions have taken place in Rafah in southern Gaza.

Israel, as the Occupying Power, has the main responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to meet the needs of the Palestinian population. To date, however, the humanitarian cost of the occupation is shouldered by the international donor community. And despite increasing needs, so far the donor response to the 2004 Consolidated Appeal has been slow - only 26.4% or US$ 74.9 million has been provided. The delivery of assistance is currently affected by severe funding shortages.

The underlying cause of the Palestinian humanitarian situation remains unchanged: access. Around 750 checkpoints, roadblocks, earth mounds and gates have sealed entire villages from main urban areas, people from their workplaces and patients from hospitals. The construction of the West Bank Barrier is proceeding rapidly. Its route throughout the West Bank has cut people off from their land, families, services and businesses. Until access within the occupied Palestinian territory is improved, the humanitarian situation will not improve. Although the economy has grown in the last 12 months, this modest growth will not halt the decline in bottom sectors of the community where coping mechanisms have been eroded.

While Israel has legitimate security concerns to stop attacks on its citizens, its response - closures, curfews, house demolitions, targeted assassination- has an impact on the Palestinian population collectively.

With the situation largely as predicted, agencies have made slight modifications to their projects. Agencies will continue to pursue the objectives set out in the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) while adjusting their programmes to address new needs, for example those arising by the Barrier construction and in the south of the Gaza Strip. Agencies will also prepare for possible changes to the situation arising from a potential Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

As the needs are greater at this point of the year 2004, the response by the humanitarian community will have to be greater. And unless the response to the 2004 CAP is more positive, many needs will remain unmet.

Changes in the context and humanitarian consequences

During the past six months, progress towards implementation of the Road Map peace plan stalled. In February 2004, Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced his intention to withdraw unilaterally from settlements housing around 7,500 people in the Gaza Strip, a proposal endorsed by the United States (U.S.) in mid-April. How and even whether the Gaza disengagement plan will be implemented is still being discussed; but the plan could have a major bearing on the future of the conflict.

Tension between Israelis and Palestinians was especially high during March and April 2004 following Israel’s targeted killing of Hamas leaders Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Without a political breakthrough, political violence looks set to continue. The Israeli response to Palestinian militant threats continues in the same pattern as the previous three years: a further tightening of restrictions, continued limits on Palestinian movement, continued incursions into Palestinian areas and ongoing conflict. This security regime will in turn heighten the factors that have led to humanitarian suffering in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The impact is borne overwhelmingly by civilians in Israel, in the West Bank and particularly in the Gaza Strip. Since the CAP was published in November 2003, 55 Israelis and 330 Palestinians have been killed. Another 240 Israelis and 1,795 Palestinians were injured.

The toll of Palestinian fatalities and injuries in the past five months has risen by more than 20% compared to the previous period. This is due to a larger number of incursions into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip densely populated areas, particularly Nablus in December-January, and in Rafah and other parts of the Strip since the beginning of 2004.

Dilemmas of continuing humanitarian assistance in the occupied Palestinian territory

The CAP highlighted two dilemmas underlying the provision of humanitarian assistance in the oPt. First, the primary cause of poverty and humanitarian crisis in the oPt is the closure regime. According to the World Bank calculations, if aid were doubled to US$ 2 billion per year, poverty would fall by seven percent by the end of 2004. If closures were lifted, poverty would fall by 15%.1

Second, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) notes in its official commentary to the Fourth Geneva Conventions that “…the Occupying Power …continue[s] at all times to be responsible for supplying the population, in order that relief operations might retain their humanitarian character.” According to this analysis, as the occupying power under international humanitarian law (IHL), it is Israel who is obliged to provide humanitarian assistance and not the international community.

Review of the common humanitarian action plan

In 2003, United Nations (UN) agencies agreed that the most likely scenario for 2004 would be a gradual decline in the humanitarian situation. Such a decline would be the result of continued Israeli security measures, including movement restrictions, demolition of property and confiscation of land, and the construction of the West Bank Barrier. This would result in continuing economic decline, denial of access to basic services, and thereby further strain Palestinians’ ability to cope.

The overall goal of the 2004 CAP was to limit this anticipated decline - “to provide relief and build on people’s coping mechanisms to support their livelihoods and prevent further asset depletion”.

There have been some less pessimistic developments. The World Bank has not recorded an increase in the overall level of poverty in the past six months,2 and the devastating economic decline and resultant job losses of 2002 and early 2003 appear to have levelled out. According to World Bank estimates, the number of people employed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip rose substantially in 2003 and the economy grew by around six percent. The World Bank points to a decrease in the intensity of closure in 2003, the use of coping mechanisms by Palestinians and the positive impact of the transfer of arrears from the Government of Israel as possible reasons for this growth. In particular, coping mechanisms include the adaptation of businesses to accommodate closure, access to outside funds, or support from the 150,000 Palestinians employed by the Palestinian Authority or humanitarian organisations.

The scenario of gradual decline in the humanitarian situation, anticipated by agencies in late 2003, has materialised during the first part of 2004. The modest economic growth falls well short of what is needed to lift the living standards of a population that has been locked into a humanitarian crisis characterized by a collapse in output, poverty, malnutrition and widespread destruction of infrastructure and private agricultural and commercial assets. Labour force data mirrors the decline observed by UN agencies. Unemployment rates recovered from the predominantly curfew-caused record high in 2002 of 41% (31% by the narrower International Labour Organization (ILO) measure) to the 2003 low-point of 30% (still more than double pre-crisis unemployment). However, closure has continued despite the reduction of curfews, and unemployment has once again been on the rise for the last two consecutive quarters, having reached 32% in the first three months of 2004. This data is consistent with World Bank estimates of growth in 2003 as a recovery over the severe economic decline of 2002. Economic performance can, therefore, be expected to continue to depend on the severity of Israeli-imposed closure in each region of the oPt and the freedom of movement and access made available to economic agents of various economic significance and influence.

Humanitarian needs have continued or increased among two social groups and in two geographical areas in the past months:

  • Both the chronic poor and the “new poor” - who suffered loss of income during the early months and years of the Intifada - are finding it increasingly difficult to cope more than three years after the beginning of the current strife in September 2000.
  • In the West Bank, an increasing number of communities have been severely affected by the Barrier construction in the past six months. The Gaza Strip has also suffered major military incursions and long periods of closure. Humanitarian agencies are seeking to adapt their programmes to meet new needs in these areas, and also to ensure delivery of assistance despite substantial access problems.

    Eroding coping strategies of vulnerable groups

    THE CHRONIC POOR - The needs of the chronic poor have continued to grow. These persons, or Social Hardship Cases - defined as households with chronically ill members, female-headed households, large families with unskilled breadwinners and the long-term unemployed - had few resources before September 2000 and many were in receipt of regular assistance before the beginning of the Intifada. Their mechanisms for coping with increasing hardship have largely been exhausted by three years of conflict, and they depend heavily on external assistance.

    The chronic poor are currently ‘first priority’ for agencies disbursing humanitarian aid in the oPt. Because they are generally low-skilled or unable to work, this group is unlikely to benefit much from the limited economic growth and job creation. A large proportion of this group will remain dependent on humanitarian assistance for the foreseeable future.

    The “NEW POOR”- A substantial group of Palestinians lost their jobs during the first two years of the Intifada, either through business failure or through loss of access to markets or places of employment, particularly in Israel. This previously employed group lost status and income, but in 2000 they did have savings and some assets. Their coping mechanisms were, therefore, more robust than those of the chronic poor.

    This group of “new poor”- most of who live in the West Bank - has consequently been considered ‘second priority’ by aid agencies. Because of funding shortages and the prioritization of aid towards the chronic poor, they have received assistance, such as food aid, only intermittently during the past six months. The chronic poor have received regular and substantial food assistance as envisaged in the CAP.3

    There are now worrying signs that the capacity of the new poor to cope with the crisis is beginning to collapse:

  • In the West Bank, chronic malnutrition among children rose to 9.2% in 2003. In contrast, in the Gaza Strip, where there are substantially higher numbers of chronic poor who receive high levels of humanitarian assistance, the proportion of children suffering from malnutrition fell between mid-2002 and mid-2003.
  • Beneficiaries of the World Food Programme of the United Nations (WFP) assistance who fall into the category of the new poor - people who had lost assets, who had relied on wage labor in Israel and the settlements, and new poor Bedouin farmers - now resort to extreme coping mechanisms and experience high levels of food insecurity.4

    If the current political and economic situation prevails, donors will need to provide higher levels of food or cash assistance, particularly to the West Bank, to support the new poor more consistently in addition to the chronic poor and social hardship cases.

    During the past six months, it has been possible to discern the following trends in the closure regime:

  • The closure measures which have been in place for some time - such as road blocks and checkpoints - have largely remained in effect while in some areas this ‘institutionalised’ closure regime has been slightly relaxed.
  • The West Bank Barrier has been extended, and new systems of permits and roads restriction are being developed.
  • The Gaza Strip has been closed for extended periods during early 2004.

    Relaxation of some aspects of the ‘institutionalised’ closure regime

    The overall number of physical obstacles blocking movement around the West Bank - such as earth mounds, roadblocks and checkpoints - has remained broadly similar, at around 750.5 In some areas of the northern West Bank, internal movement restrictions have been periodically reduced - notably where the Barrier construction has taken place. The checkpoint at the only entrance to Qalqiliya, for example, remained unmanned for substantial periods during early 2004. The number of days of curfew has also been lower than in the previous six months.6

    However, the relaxation of some aspects of the closure regime has not resulted in significantly greater freedom of movement in the West Bank. Israel retains the capacity to impose tight movement restrictions. Restrictions such as checkpoints can be, and often are, re-imposed at short notice. People therefore continue to assume that they will be delayed or denied access when undertaking even short journeys and are making adjustments to their economic and social behaviour to accommodate closure.

    The West Bank Barrier and new permits system

    The West Bank Barrier constitutes an increasingly substantial part of the closure regime. Approximately 180km of ditches, trenches, roads, razor wire, electronic fences and concrete walls have already been constructed in the West Bank. The Barrier in the northern West Bank is now almost complete, and its construction is also progressing rapidly in the Ramallah, Jerusalem and Bethlehem governorates.

    If the Barrier construction continues as announced by the Government of Israel in October 2003, approximately 191,000 acres - or about 13.5% - of West Bank land (excluding East Jerusalem) will lie between the Barrier and the Green Line. This area, which is inhabited by 189,000 Palestinians, will include 39,000 acres enclosed in a series of eight enclaves. A further 152,000 acres will be caught between the Green Line and the Barrier in closed areas.

    The Israeli authorities have installed a network of gates in the Barrier, and a system of special permits to control movement through the Barrier. Varying restrictions and conditions apply for each gate, but access remains heavily restricted.7

    New humanitarian needs have been created by the Barrier construction. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and WFP report higher levels of food insecurity in areas affected by the Barrier than in other parts of the West Bank.8 Increasing numbers of people in the ‘closed area’ between the Green Line and the Barrier report major difficulties in accessing jobs and agricultural land.9 Access to health care has also been limited by the Barrier: so far, two hospitals and 26 primary healthcare clinics have been directly affected, and the number of communities isolated from health care providers continues to increase.10 Children in affected communities face difficulties reaching their schools.

    Humanitarian agencies in the oPt are working to adapt their programmes to meet the needs of communities affected by the Barrier. Aid agencies also face the dilemma of how best to provide assistance to communities affected by a construction which is supposed to be temporary, but which is, in practice, changing many aspects of social and economic behaviours.

    Closure of the Gaza Strip

    As the Gaza Strip is completely enclosed, its economic viability depends largely on access permitted by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF); the only point of access for people wishing to travel between Israel and the Gaza Strip is Erez Crossing, in the north of the Strip.11 Commercial goods are permitted to enter and exit the Gaza Strip via Karni terminal.

    In March 2004, a suicide bomber accessed the Ashdod port through a container exiting Karni killing 10 Israelis while three cars containing explosives were discovered at Erez. Israel has reinforced its security measures to prevent specific terror incidents or attempt of attacks. These include the prevention of crossing for Palestinian men under 35 years old and the regular closure of the checkpoints. The resulting closure of the Erez industrial zone and crossing into Israel, and the suspension of normal operations at Karni for long periods during March and April 2004 significantly impacted the livelihoods of people living int. During this period, Palestinian workers, each of whom supports an average of 7.7 persons, were no longer able to access jobs in Israel in comparison to an average of 10,000 Palestinians working in Israel or in the Erez industrial zone in February.

    UN agency staff - both international and Palestinian - faced serious difficulties in crossing Erez during the first half of 2004, and transport of goods through Karni terminal was impeded. This adversely affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The restrictions imposed by the IDF on the movement of goods through Karni forced the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to suspend its emergency food aid programme to 600,000 refugees for almost a month. Emergency programmes in health, infrastructure and employment were also affected.

    The outlook: Towards 2005

    A central goal of the CAP was to prevent further depletion of Palestinian economic and social resources.

    Although assistance provided under the CAP framework has created jobs for unemployed workers and has helped to compensate for Palestinians’ inability to access basic services, the cumulative affects of closures and long-term unemployment do appear to be exhausting the coping mechanisms of a large number of Palestinians.12 Increasingly, people are unable to pay electricity and water bills and spend less on health and education. Many are consuming less food or eat food of a lower quality.13

    These trends do not imply that the CAP requires substantial revision in mid-2004. Acute humanitarian needs have been created among communities most affected by current Israeli policies - notably those living in the south of the Gaza Strip and around the Barrier. Agencies are adjusting their programmes to address these needs, for example by considering how to provide education service to areas rendered inaccessible by Barrier construction. Agencies are also consulting with line ministries and coordination is taking place through the guidance of the Palestinian Planning Ministry within the context of the Economic Stabilisation and Recovery Strategy launched in November 2003. Some strategic goals have also been fine-tuned.

    Funding shortages

    The delivery of assistance is currently being affected by funding shortages. The average level of funding requirements met is 26.4% for the 2004 CAP mid-year review. UNRWA, with 27.9% of funding requirements met, is particularly exposed to this under-funding situation, given the importance of its role and contribution to the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the oPt. UNRWA is concerned about the implications for the large number of refugees who rely on the “safety net” it provides for their well-being. All international organizations involved in the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) for the oPt called the attention of the international community to the funding shortfall. Funding for health and psychosocial assistance sectors has been particularly sparse, and there is also a major shortage of funding in the infrastructure and employment sector.14

    Funding status by Appealing Organisation

    However, humanitarian assistance has prevented overall rapid deterioration in the socio-economic situation and in the delivery of essential services in the oPt. Humanitarian agencies must continue to pursue the objectives set out in the CAP in support of the Palestinian population, and to seek donor support for unfunded projects. Agencies must also be prepared for possible changes to the situation arising from the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.


    1. Fact Sheet on socio-economic and humanitarian situation submitted to Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, Rome, 10 December 2003.
    2. The World Bank is currently conducting research into poverty levels throughout the oPt, which will be published in mid-2004.
    3. See for example, section on food security below. On the basis of 2002 malnutrition figures, FAO and WFP indicated that food insecurity in the West Bank “has not persisted long enough to visibly start affecting malnutrition rates. Food insecurity could, over time however, lead to increased malnutrition levels.” Food Security Assessment West Bank and Gaza Strip, FAO-WFP, Rome, 2004, p.70
    4. Coping strategies of WFP beneficiaries in the oPt, WFP, February 2004
    5. For details of OCHA closure mapping, see section on Maps at
    6. Between May and October 2003, the number of people affected by curfew each day in the oPt averaged 177,787. The equivalent figure for the period November 2003-March2004 was 35,531.
    7. See Barrier Update compiled by OCHA oPt, available at
    8. Food Security Assessment West Bank and Gaza Strip, FAO-WFP, Rome, 2004, p.39
    9. According to a recent IUED public perception poll, the 78.1% of the population directly affected by the ‘closed area’ stated the Barrier prevents job access; 76.9% stated it separates them from relatives and 74% stated great increase in the price of inputs and transportation costs. More than 60% reported difficulties in marketing agricultural produce and that it is difficult or impossible to cultivate the land.
    10. For further information, see health sector below.
    11. Another access point exists in the south, allowing movement of people and commercial goods between Rafah and Egypt. The Israeli authorities control this access point.
    12. See Johns Hopkins/Al Quds Nutritional Assessment 2003, and Coping strategies of WFP beneficiaries in the oPt, WFP, February 2004.
    13. See, for example, Coping strategies of WFP beneficiaries in the oPt, WFP, February 2004.
    14. This sectoral allocation of funds has been proposed at field level, and not yet confirmed to the FTS by appealing agency headquarters.

    The full text of the Mid-Year Review of the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP): Humanitarian Appeal 2004 for Occupied Palestinian Territories (PDF) is online available (also in WORD format).

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