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Easing of Gaza blockage helps but concerns persist

Easing of Gaza blockage helps but humanitarian concerns persist – UN official

A spokesman for the main United Nations relief agency in the Middle East today welcomed the recent easing of the total blockage of the Gaza Strip by the Israel Defense Forces but warned that the humanitarian situation there remains serious, with supplies still unable to reach those in need and the lack of adequate sanitation portending a health crisis.

Matthias Burchard of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) told journalists that the lifting of some restrictions had averted, for now, a possible humanitarian catastrophe.

At the same time, he said there were no stored quantities anymore in the Gaza Strip and there was still a huge backlog of supplies to be delivered. UNWRA alone had 8,000 tons of food, or some 410 containers, waiting in the Israeli port of Ashdod because since 4 June, and Israel was not allowing containers to enter Gaza.

The Agency is providing food aid in Gaza to nearly 900,000 persons out of a population of about 1.4 million, he said. While UNRWA has been able to continue many of its activities despite military operations, it was particularly concerned about the water situation since access remained sporadic throughout the Strip, and chlorine supplies for purifying water would run out in 15 days.

Electricity supply also remained erratic and sewage was becoming widespread in the streets, with children playing in it, presenting a looming health crisis, he said. UNRWA urged the international community to be forthcoming in funding the Emergency Appeal for the occupied Palestinian territories. While the agency has sought $170 million, just over half is covered with pledges.

Damien Personnaz of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) pointed out how the electricity crisis is affecting health; vaccines must be kept refrigerated with 24 hour-a-day electricity but Gaza, which is very hot, only has electricity for 3 to 8 hours a day. For the time being, the vaccines were safe, but there was only fuel available for one week, so that the situation remained extremely precarious.

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