Palestinians in Gaza are ‘locked in’, denied free access to the remainder of the occupied Palestinian territory and the outside world. Movement restrictions imposed by Israel since the early 1990’s and intensified in June 2007, following the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, have severely undermined the living conditions. The isolation of Gaza has been exacerbated by restrictions imposed by the Egyptian authorities on its single passengers crossing (Rafah), as well as by the internal Palestinian divide. The UN Secretary-General has found that the blockade and related restrictions contravene international humanitarian law as they target and impose hardship on the civilian population, effectively penalizing them for acts they have not committed. Major escalations of hostilities in the past years have resulted in extensive destruction and internal displacement.
In the Gaza Strip, another winter season brings with it the threat of temporary displacement, property losses and health risks due to flooding and poor housing conditions. Insufficient funding, import restrictions, the ongoing energy crisis and the limited capacity of the Palestinian Civil Defense (PCD) are key factors that hinder the ability of the relevant actors to reduce vulnerability and respond effectively.
November marked the beginning of the peak season for the export of high-value cash crops such as strawberries. Growth in agricultural trade from the Gaza Strip in 2017 is encouraging news within an economic context characterized by sluggish growth and unemployment peaking at 46.6 per cent in the third quarter of 2017.
Today, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, Robert Piper, released US$ 2.2 million from the occupied Palestinian territory Humanitarian Fund (oPt HF) to cover urgent additional needs in the Gaza Strip in the areas of health and food security.
Ongoing electricity outages of 18-20 hours a day across the Gaza Strip throughout September and October continue to undermine the provision of basic services. In the water, sanitation and hygiene sector (WASH), sustained efforts by humanitarian agencies to provide 154 critical facilities with emergency fuel to run backup generators resulted in a limited improvement in some key indicators during September compared with previous months. There was a modest increase in the quantity of piped water supplied to households and in the functioning of desalination plants, plus a slight decline in the contamination levels of sewage discharged to the sea. Nevertheless, September indicators remain well below the already poor standards recorded during the first quarter of 2017.
People with disabilities and special needs have been disproportionately affected by the deterioration in living conditions in the Gaza Strip since March 2017. This situation is driven by a worsening energy crisis, which has resulted in outages of 18-20 hours a day, and an exacerbation of the salary crisis in the public sector, both of which are linked to an escalation in internal Palestinian divisions.1 In the midst of this crisis, Gaza’s unemployment rate reached 44 per cent in the second quarter of 2017 (April-June), up from 41.1 per cent in the previous quarter and 41.7 per cent in the same period of 2016.
The volume of people allowed to move in and out of Gaza has declined further since the beginning of 2017 in comparison with the previous two years, particularly via the Israeli-controlled crossing (Erez). Movement via Rafah, the Egyptian controlled crossing, also remains at extremely low levels. This has exacerbated the isolation of Gaza from the remainder of the oPt and the outside world, further limiting access to medical treatment unavailable in Gaza, to higher education, to family and social life, and to employment and economic opportunities. The tightening of restrictions in recent months has also obstructed the movement of national staff employed by the UN and international NGOs and impeded humanitarian operations.