The cause of the current humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory is fundamentally political. The problem cannot be solved with humanitarian aid alone.
The current humanitarian crisis began two years ago and has deepened as a strict regime of closures and curfews seriously hampers the movement of people and goods between cities, villages and refugee camps both inside the territories and Israel. The closures were imposed by Israel as a result of security concerns following a spate of suicide bombings and other security-related incidents. These closures, however, have effectively divided the territories into about 50 isolated pockets. Thus, the humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza is a crisis of access and mobility; it is further compounded by an economic downturn that severely limits the ability of the civilian population to purchase and access basic needs.
The most efficient way of assisting the growing numbers of vulnerable populations would be to take immediate measures to revive the economy and restore purchasing power by lifting internal closures, releasing accumulated and monthly Palestinian Authority tax revenues and allowing the resumption of regular employment of Palestinians in Israel. Even if some of these measures are implemented - which is by no means certain - there is a need to deliver assistance so as to save lives and mitigate the nefarious effects of this crisis on the civilian population.
Impact on the Economy
The loss of income is one of the primary causes of the deepening humanitarian crisis. Overall adjusted unemployment rate for the West Bank and Gaza increased from 36% to approximately 50% in the second quarter of 2002. Approximately half of all Palestinian households have lost over half their usual income over the past two years. The World Bank estimates that the poverty rate has doubled to 45% as compared to figures in 1998. By the end of 2002, poverty levels are expected to rise to 60%. The loss of income as a result of joblessness is exacerbated as the Palestinian Authority is unable to pay salaries to civil servants due to a continuing freeze on its tax revenues by the Government of Israel.
Crisis of Access
In addition to the loss of income, large parts of the population are neither able to access nor be provided with basic services and supplies such as water and sanitation, regular health services, medicine or schooling, to name a few. Matters are further complicated by difficulties that service-providers - including the Palestinian Authority, the United Nations and other aid agencies - face in reaching their target populations due to constraints on the movement of employees and vehicles. This has in turn led to an increase in the cost of delivery of humanitarian aid.
International Humanitarian Law
A series of recent violent incidents prompted the Secretary General to call on the Government of Israel to live up to its obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians. There are widespread concerns that the Israeli Defense Forces may have used excessive force in the occupied Palestinian territory and that the impact - if not intent - of the measures imposed by Israel has been collective punishment of the civilian population.
The Humanitarian Action Plan is based on the assumption that a political breakthrough is not imminent and that the status quo as of October 2002 will hold during the upcoming months. This assumption, however, implies that the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate as access and mobility remain major impediments.
Key features of the crisis
There is a major shortage of cash in the economy, leading heretofore self-sustaining households to require assistance; the type and level of assistance varies between cities and rural areas, and between the West Bank and Gaza;
Agricultural production is in decline as a result of incursions, expropriation and destruction of farmland;
As a result of loss of income, food consumption patterns are changing, leading to increased rates of malnutrition and anaemia, particularly among children and women; currently, 50% of the Palestinian population relies on some form of food assistance;
The movement of health care professionals is limited (75% unable to report to work regularly), leading to a decrease in immunisation levels, and rendering care for patients with chronic diseases extremely difficult; pre-natal care has declined sharply;
Teachers cannot reach schools and class schedules are severely disrupted: 170,000 children and over 6,650 teachers are unable to reach their regular classrooms and at least 580 schools have been closed due to curfews, closures and home confinement;
Private homes have been partly or totally damaged during military operations; damage varies from partial damage to demolition; estimates place affected dwellings at 40%;
Water shortages are acute; collection and disposal of waste is extremely difficult;
The psychosocial health of children is precarious; levels of domestic violence are increasing.
The interventions outlined in the Humanitarian Action Plan are short term, pending full resumption of the Palestinian Authority’s capacity to deliver basic services to the population;
The Humanitarian Action Plan is not intended to supplant development activities, but to provide critical support to populations in need. It is intended to provide temporary assistance to a crisis that has emerged on top of long-standing emergency. It is intended to mitigate the immediate deleterious effects of the closures and curfews on the civilian population;
Advocacy is an essential element for each sector and central to humanitarian response. It is seen here as the need to raise awareness among the parties, donors, and the public of the humanitarian consequences of the current practices.
Fact based tracking of commitments made by both parties to the international community and the Secretary-General’s Personal Humanitarian Envoy will assist humanitarian partners in ensuring timely assistance can reach those who need it.
The Humanitarian Action Plan was elaborated by an inter-agency Technical Assessment Mission (TAM) which travelled to the region in October 2002. The TAM was deployed as part of the recommendations made by the Secretary General’s Personal Humanitarian Envoy, Ms Catherine Bertini. The mission was also endorsed by the Secretary-General and the Quartet (EU, Russia, United Nations and United States). Following an intense round of consultations with the main humanitarian partners, this Humanitarian Action Plan identified the following priority sectors:
Food Security, Health, Education, Water and Sanitation, Psychosocial Support, Shelter, Emergency Employment, Humanitarian Advocacy, Commitment Tracking, and Coordination.
It is important to highlight that the Humanitarian Action Plan proposes non-traditional emergency interventions due to the particularities of this crisis.
For further information, please contact:
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jerusalem, OCHA Team Leader, Mr. Grigor Hovhannisyan, TelFax: +972 2 5890459, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Palais des Nations, 8-14 Avenue de la Paix, CH - 1211 Geneva, Switzerland, Tel.: (41 22) 917.1972, Fax: (41 22) 917.0368, E-Mail: email@example.com