On June the 1st, the Egyptian authorities exceptionally opened the Rafah border crossing in both directions, for humanitarian cases and aid, for an unspecified period of time. It is expected that an average of 750 people will cross daily. In addition, on the day of the opening, 13 electrical generators for the Al Quds hospital and five truckloads of clothing, bed sheets, blankets, tents and shoes were allowed into Gaza. Since the partial opening of the border, Gazans were streaming through the border with Egypt following the order from Egyptian President to open the crossing “indefinitely”. This move came after the Israeli attack on Gaza-bond aid ships on 31 May.
Rafah is Gaza’s only gateway to the rest of the world that is not controlled by Israel. Egypt, which has a 30-year peace deal with Israel, has kept the Rafah border closed for much of the past five years.
The Egypt-Israel blockade was tightened following the 2006 parliamentary election. A parallel economy operates as Gazans built a network of tunnels under the border to Egypt to bring in supplies.
While ordinary Gazans have taken advantage of the border opening, it is not yet clear whether all goods will be allowed into Gaza from Egypt.
Egyptian officials have been quoted as saying there would be no restrictions on the movement of Palestinians or on food, medical and humanitarian supplies being brought in. However, reports suggest that concrete and steel, which Gazans desperately need to repair damage from last year’s Israeli offensive in the Strip, would still need to be transported through Israel, which restricts supplies of building materials as it says they could be used for military purposes.
Following the partial opening of the border in Rafah on June 1, HCI’s teams inside Gaza and at the regional office in Beirut stepped up their efforts on the ground to enable them to deliver humanitarian aid to the people in need through the Rafah crossing.
Following the opening, HCI imported food through the Rafah crossing destined to thousands of food-insecure Gazans. The trucks were loaded with protein-rich foods such as meat and fish, which are difficult for Gazans to find or to afford.
HCI and its local partner in Gaza, the Aid and Hope Program for Cancer Patients (AHP), received the aid supplies, prepared them into packages, and profiled and identified food-insecure Gazans as recipients of the supplies.
Food Insecurity in Gaza
The amount and quality of food available to the estimated 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip has been severely restricted by more than 1,000 days of a near-complete blockade. Sixty-one percent of the Gaza population is food insecure, states a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report. There is a diverse range of foods available in Gaza; the problem is people do not have the means to purchase the food due to rising poverty and unemployment, now nearly 39 percent. Israel’s import and access restrictions continue to suffocate the agriculture sector in Gaza, directly contributing to rising food insecurity.
Protein-rich foods such as meat and poultry are especially difficult for Gazans to afford. Families have resorted to coping mechanisms including borrowing money and relying on aid from humanitarian agencies operating in Gaza.
Aid agencies are concerned by rising malnutrition indicators – increased cases of stunting, wasting and underweight children – and continuing high rates of anaemia among children and pregnant women.
A poverty survey conducted by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) shows that the number of Palestine refugees unable to access food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water, has tripled since the imposition of the blockade in June 2007.
Thirty eggs used to cost about US$1.83, and now they cost 14 about $3.65.
Without a change in policy, aid dependency is only likely to grow, warns UNRWA, which is providing basic sustenance to nearly 80 percent of the Gaza population.
Furthermore, the reduction in electricity supplies to Gaza as part of the Israeli blockade causes significant damage to vegetable crops due to the lack of refrigeration, as well as adding to production costs.
HCI’s Involvement in Gaza
HCI’s involvement in Gaza prior to the war included dispatching trucks loaded with basic commodities to Gaza by land. Two trucks loaded with parcels of food supplies were dispatched in November, 2008, almost a month before the war, to Gaza by land in partnership with local and regional partners and in coordination with the UNRWA. The trucks were prepared inside Jordan and transported to Gaza by land via Jericho after acquiring necessary approvals from all the relevant authorities. In addition, a US$1.8 million shipment bearing medical supplies and medicines left Canada in December and was scheduled to make its way into Gaza in January.
Following the war on Gaza, HCI and its local and regional partners stepped up their efforts on the ground to enable them to deliver humanitarian aid to the people in need. A regional and international fundraising campaign was launched to increase our programs and to launch new ones.
HCI’s teams inside Gaza and the region provided invaluable first-hand information from the field on the escalating humanitarian crisis and the difference donations are having on civilians in the middle of the crisis.
HCI’s team in Jordan was also busy preparing trucks loaded with food and non-food items, which were dispatched to Gaza by land via Jordan. The items were distributed inside Gaza via UNRWA food distribution centers.
Following the war, HCI’s Post-Conflict Recovery interventions targeted households and individuals addressing both their social and economic well-being. HCI assisted community households and individuals to rebuild their lives by addressing not only the economic impact of war but equally important the social and psychological impact on the household level.