On July 14, United Nations (UN) Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, called on the donor community to assit the United Nations and its partners in their efforts to meet the most urgent needs of the Palestinian population and respond promptly and generously to the revised emergency Appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) 2006. Norway, Spain and Sweden convened a meeting in Geneva to encourage the international donor community to increase it response to the deterioration humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territory. Since its original launch, developments in the Palestinian territory have prompted the expansion of the Appeal from an initial USD 215 million to USD 385 million. Approximately 31% of the revise amount is covered to date.
The humanitarian outlook for the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) looks extremely bleak and is predicted to worsen dramatically in the coming months. Faced with this situation, the United Nations and select non-governmental organisations have taken the unprecedented step of revising their appeal for humanitarian assistance to Palestinians from U$ 215 million to $384 million.
This revised emergency Appeal is aimed at helping the neediest people – particularly children who make up half the Palestinian population. This Appeal does not replace the comprehensive range of services provided by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Humanitarian assistance can plug some of the emerging gaps to help support a continuation of services and can cushion a deepening humanitarian crisis, but it cannot prevent it.
At the end of May 2006, this emergency revision was in response to the PA fiscal crisis and its negative effect on the population. Following the Hamas victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections in January, Israel halted the transfer of Palestinian Value Added Tax (VAT) and customs taxes it is obligated to pass over. These comprise around half the PA monthly budget. Western donor funding was also suspended to the new PA pending its agreement to Quartet principles relating to non-violence, the recognition of Israel and an acceptance of previous agreements. The banking sector, fearful of litigation, has frozen PA accounts.
As a result, PA revenues have dropped by 75% and salaries to over 152,000 PA employees have not been paid since March. These wages directly support one million people, or 25% of the population. Survey data indicates that after two months of going without salaries, PA employees have grown poorer more quickly than is the case in the general population. GDP is estimated to fall by 27% by the end of 2006 and poverty predicted to rise sharply. Around 70% of Gaza’s potential workforce is out of work or without pay.
The lack of salaries and essential supplies will undermine the delivery of key services that served the bulk of the Palestinian population. The PA operates 62% of primary health clinics, 75% of schools and provides relief services to 45,000 families unable to support themselves.
Israeli-Palestinian violence continues with a mounting death toll on both sides. Power struggles within and between security forces increase internal insecurity. A rise in criminality and lawlessness will further undermine private investment and could jeopardise aid delivery.
The fiscal crisis comes hard on the heels of tighter restrictions on Palestinian movement – that Israel states are needed to protect its citizens against militant attacks – which have further fragmented the oPt, hampered economic growth and interrupted UN humanitarian assistance delivery. Palestinians and their goods cannot move freely in the West Bank. Imports into the Gaza Strip from Israel are erratic and exports in the past two months have dropped to just six trucks daily.
In late 2005 when the UN’s Appeal for 2006 was launched, the outlook appeared more positive. To date, $117m of the $384m revised Appeal has been funded, or about 31% of the total requested. This revision builds on the original key elements. It is founded on a coordinated approach by participating organisations and Palestinian counterparts to ensure the successful targeting of the neediest Palestinians.
Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel as the Occupying Power bears legal responsibility for the welfare of the Palestinian population. The Quartet noted in May 2006 that the “PA must fulfill its responsibilities with respect to basic human needs … and provision of services”. Over the past decade, the PA has fulfilled this role with the help of the international community. However, should the PA be unable to provide basic services to the population, there could be a renewed emphasis on Israel’s legal responsibilities.
The new funding sought will be used to replenish depleted medical supplies of PA institutions, increase food relief, create temporary jobs and provide cash assistance to the most vulnerable segments of the population. It will alleviate some of the worst effects of the deepening humanitarian crisis, but a lasting solution lies in a fully functioning PA and the easing of movement restrictions on Palestinians.