Nearly six months after the most recent Israeli war on Gaza, conditions on the ground remain severe. Saahir Lone, Senior Liaison Officer from the UNRWA, met with the NGO Working Group on Israel/Palestine on May 28, 2009, to discuss the current situation.
According to Lone, the people of Gaza face a critical problem, one of “access” to the goods mandatory for reconstruction, particularly glass and building supplies. UN officials and other rescue organizations find the situation frustrating. They have grown so accustomed to the dearth of supplies that a relatively “small” victory (such as being permitted to receive sewer pipes last week) becomes a cause for celebration. The Israeli Government is preventing the many essential materials from entering Gaza. Further, Gazans face continuous periods of rolling blackouts due to rationed distribution of electricity. The Israeli government is no longer permitting many basic foodstuffs into the region. In fact, only 30-40 commercial items are currently allowed across the border. Before the attack on Gaza, this number was close to 4,000 items. The conflict on the Palestinian side exacerbates the situation, as continued setbacks in talks between Hamas and Fath, allow for delays in any peace negotiations.
Older persons and other vulnerable groups feel the drastic impact of these shortages in the Gaza Strip. Without access to proper housing and electricity during the colder winter months, old people suffered much pain. According to preliminary data from UNRWA, children’s inadequate nutrition is stunting their growth in Gaza. Israeli military do not allow vitamins and other essential nutrients into Gaza, so older persons and children, particularly, suffer from malnourishment. The already poor medical infrastructural system shifted into emergency gear during the January violence, leaving citizens unable to access everyday medical attention. For older people, this lack of routine care proved disastrous. Even before the recent escalation of violence, Israel prohibited the entry of active ingredients, such as folic acid, that are necessary components in many medications. Furthermore, they blocked necessary equipment to perform kidney dialysis, keeping the machines out of Gaza for some time, and leaving those with kidney problems at high risk of death. Israelis stopped wheelchair consignments, rendering older persons with disabilities unable to move about and live more comfortably in their daily lives. On a less severe note, luxury goods, such as artificial sweetener are not being allowed into Gaza. This policy negatively impacts older people who cannot consume large amounts of sugar due to health reasons. This stoppage serves as a small example of how even seemingly inconsequential things can have a detrimental impact on old people.
While poor medical infrastructure has been a problem in Gaza for the last two to three years, the most recent conflict has left it far more damaged. Saahir Lone remains pessimistic, seeing no prospect for real improvement in the near future.
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