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HEALTH SYSTEM FAILING

Donor pledges to Gaza not good enough

by Cesar Chelala

NEW YORK — Although several governments have recently pledged $500 million to help the Palestinian people, the response is late, incomplete and likely to be ineffective unless the aid is accompanied by political measures to alleviate a situation in which Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, have become prisoners in their own land. Several United Nations humanitarian agencies working in the occupied Palestinian territories have expressed concern over the continuing toll that violence and health problems have taken on civilians, more than half of them children.

Jan Egeland, U.N. relief coordinator, has said that driving Gaza’s population into despair is a recipe for generating more hatred and militancy. What is needed to improve their plight?

The World Food Program (WFP) states that “In contrast to Lebanon, where humanitarian food aid needs have been essentially met, the growing number of poor in Gaza are living on the bare minimum and face a daily struggle to cover their daily food needs.”

As a result of the crisis, 70 percent of Gaza’s population lacks enough food each day, and the WFP has had to increase the number of Gazans receiving monthly aid to 220,000 people from 160,000 earlier — including farmers and fishermen.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has noted that large tracts of agricultural land have been damaged as a result of Israel Defense Force (IDF) ground incursions — made in response to, or ostensibly to preempt, attacks by Palestinian militants.

Access to and movement in and out of Gaza remain compromised. Closures at key points have markedly affected the ability of Gazans to go elsewhere for needed medical care.

Professor Zvi Bentwich, a leader of a delegation of Physicians for Human Rights who visited Gaza, has said the unavailability of specialist care to Palestinians amounts to a denial of “the basic human right to health.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that conflict-related destruction of crucial infrastructure, including Gaza’s only power plant, has started a chain reaction of electricity blackouts, generator-fuel scarcity and water shortages. This has prevented the health system from functioning as it should and led to a deterioration of public health.

According to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), almost 840,000 Palestinian children in Gaza bear the consequences of exposure to IDF shelling and airstrikes directed against Palestinian positions suspected of generating rocket fire, planning suicide-bombings or staging breaches of Israel’s security zone.

At the same time, shortages and closures make it practically impossible to deliver adequate health care. Water contamination has created conditions ripe for outbreaks of communicable diseases that mainly affect children.

It is estimated that more than 150,000 children suffer from posttraumatic stress disorders. According to WHO, almost 50 percent of children report personal experience with conflict-related violence or have witnessed violence affecting a member of their immediate family.

Physicians for Human Rights — Israel has filed an appeal with the Israeli High Court to stop flybys over the Gaza Strip, alleging that the flights amount to psychological torture of mainly children and violate the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a signatory.

The U.N. Population Fund and the U.N. Fund for Women have expressed extreme concern about the situation in the Gaza Strip.