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Humanitarian Chief Deplores Gaza Living Conditions

After visit to Gaza, UN humanitarian chief deplores daily living conditions

15 February 2008 - Decrying the "miserable" daily living conditions inside the Gaza Strip, the United Nations humanitarian chief today deplored the restrictions on the flow of aid and commercial goods in and out of the area and said he would raise his concerns with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, made a day-long visit today to assess the impact on the restrictions on Gaza's estimated 1.4 million inhabitants.

"I have been shocked by the grim and miserable things that I have seen and heard today, which are the result of current restrictions and the limitations on the number of goods that are being allowed into Gaza," he said.

"Around 80 per cent of the population is dependent on good aid from international organizations. Poverty and unemployment are increasing and the private sector has more or less collapsed. Only 10 per cent of the amount of goods that entered Gaza a year ago are being permitted to enter now."

During his first official visit to Gaza since taking up the post just over a year ago, Mr. Holmes saw the sewage lagoons at Beit Lahiya, where the waste-water system is in a precarious state, and the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, where the director told the Emergency Relief Coordinator that the interruptions to supplies of fuel and electricity as a result of the restrictions was having a particularly disastrous effect on the dialysis and neo-natal wards.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator was also briefed by UN staff, including officials from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and he also travelled to the Karni border crossing.

"What's essential to alleviate this situation is the opening of crossings to allow a lot more humanitarian and non-humanitarian goods to enter Gaza so people can lead better lives and have a minimum of human dignity. These are points I will be making to the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority later in my trip."

Tomorrow Mr. Holmes is scheduled to travel to the West Bank to assess the impact there of restrictions on the movement of people, goods and services. He is expected to visit Bethlehem, Hebron and the Augusta Victoria hospital.

In a related development, UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi told a press briefing in Geneva that he had been informed by the director of a large public hospital in Gaza that he was unable to deal with patients' health problems because he had to spend his entire day searching for fuel. Without that fuel, generators and vital equipment such as incubators would shut down, he told Mr. Grandi.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that residents of the West Bank are also suffering, with over 560 blockages of various sorts making everyday life increasingly difficult.

OCHA has voiced concern that the constraints could lead to growing political radicalization, especially among the younger members of society in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, in northern Lebanon, UNRWA and the Lebanese Government have announced plans to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared camp for Palestinian refugees, which was badly damaged last year when members of a militant group used it as a base to fight Lebanese Government forces.

The reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared, which is host to more than 30,000 people, is likely to cost about $174 million, according to Mr. Grandi.


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