Border restrictions hurting Gaza’s economic sustainability, UN officials warn

Border restrictions hurting Gaza’s economic sustainability, UN officials warn

John Holmes
The continued closure or restrictions of border crossings is threatening the Gaza Strip’s economic sustainability, forcing most factories to close or operate at reduced capacity and depriving farmers of key export income, United Nations relief officials warned today.

“We need to see all crossings at least as operational as they were before 9 June, or risk facing serious social, economic and humanitarian concerns,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said.

Israel has closed or restricted the handful of border crossings with the Gaza Strip since deadly intra-Palestinian violence – which has since subsided – erupted early last month. Some 1.4 million people live within Gaza’s 360-square-kilometre area.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a press release that humanitarian imports allowed into Gaza in the past week are meeting some of the minimum food needs in the territory, where 80 per cent of the population already receive food assistance.

OCHA said three quarters of Gaza’s factories are either closed or operating at 20 per cent capacity, placing the direct livelihoods of about 30,000 people in jeopardy and causing at least $500,000 of business losses each day.

The border closures and restrictions are also stopping agricultural products from being exported, depriving farmers of income and leading to an overabundance within Gaza – and thus a drop in price – of such items as tomatoes, melons and apples.

The cancellation of the Gaza customs code by Israeli authorities has also meant that more than 1,300 containers of commercial materials destined for Gaza remain stranded at Israeli ports, and essential items such as milk powder, baby formula and vegetable oil are now in short supply.

Restrictions at some crossing points are being eased, OCHA reported. The Karni crossing is open for wheat grain imports and the Nahal Oz fuel pipeline has been opened to allow supplies of diesel, petrol and cooking gas to be delivered.

The UN, the Palestinian Authority and Israel are also working to install two conveyor belts at Kerem Shalom, a crossing point between Gaza and Egypt, and to widen the area there for truck-transfer operations. Once the belts are installed and the area widened, the crossing should be able to handle 150 truckloads of goods each day, up from the current limit of 20.

Kerem Shalom is the only viable crossing for Palestinians wanting to re-enter Gaza from Egypt since the Rafah crossing point was closed last month, OCHA said. But Kerem Shalom remains closed to the more than 6,000 Palestinians trying to return from the Egyptian cities of Al Arish and Sheik Zoueid, patients in Gaza are unable to enter Egypt for medical treatment and another 400 to 700 remain stranded in the open near the Rafah border.

Mr. Holmes said UN officials in Egypt were working to provide assistance to those people who are stranded at the border, “but the importance of lifting current border restrictions cannot be over-emphasized.”