Aid agencies need to reach vulnerable people in Gaza
28 January 2009
Caritas says increased access for aid organisations to Gaza is urgent to provide humanitarian assistance to tens of thousands civilians there.
Marwan Abu- Taha, Head of the Red Crescent warehouse talking about the need for blankets and aid for Gaza.
This urgency comes after a 22 day Israeli military campaign and the previous 18 months of blockade that dramatically cut back aid and access.
Up to 412 children had died and 1855 had been injured by the time Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip on 21st January.
An estimated 4000 homes were destroyed and 17000 damaged in the three-week war between Israel and Hamas. Up to 18000 people are displaced without homes; some live in 30 shelters while others have found refuge with families.
New shelters are needed but construction materials are banned by Israeli authorities from delivery into Gaza. This basic need and right to shelter must be addressed now.
The recent ceasefire is considered fragile. Reports today say Israeli jets have targeted Gaza’s border with Egypt in response to an attack on Tuesday.
Border crossings fundamentally remain closed due to restrictions which have been in place since last year and have been tightened this month.
This impedes international aid organisations like Caritas. Although there is some measure of coordination and cooperation with Israeli officials, access remains intensely scrutinised and is effected by daily changing conditions.
At least 80 percent of the 1.5 million people in Gaza were already dependent on some form of humanitarian aid when the crisis began.
"The Israeli government must cooperate with aid agencies to humanely improve access to Gaza," said Joseph Donnelly, Caritas Internationalis' representative in Jerusalem.
"Getting relief supplies into Gaza is time-consuming and difficult, " he said. "Gazans were on the brink of a humanitarian crisis even before the war began. After three weeks of war, it is now all the more imperative that aid reaches them now.”
Access rules include a restrictions which prevent Caritas staff from entering into Gaza. But Caritas has been responding to the crisis with a team of 22 staff and volunteers living in Gaza, including seven volunteer doctors.
Caritas medical services were disrupted this month when one of its six clinics in Gaza was hit during a military attack in the area.
"Medical supplies which were already stored in Gaza have continued to be distributed from other Caritas medical points. Since the cease fire has held movement around Gaza has increased which has enabled more patients to get medical assistance. Those too ill or injured to move receive visits from Caritas staff doctors,” said Mr Donnelly.
"Determination to get more staff into Gaza to work effectively is Caritas’ highest priority to make a difference in the lives of Palestinian communities throughout the area. Such determination is matched by daily rounds of frustration, even exasperation when an "almost" access evaporates.
"Relief efforts of this size and complexity cannot be run remotely or by wasting hours calling, faxing, waiting for access - only to be turned down for whatever reasons this day," he said.
CARITAS launched a US$2 million dollar emergency appeal earlier this month to provide health care services, food parcels, hygiene kits and financial support to innocent families in need.
For more information please contact Caritas Internationalis’ representative in Jerusalem, Joseph Cornelius Donnelly: +1 917 747 0652 or firstname.lastname@example.org