Top UN relief official spotlights worsening conditions in Gaza, West Bank

18 February 2008

Concluding a five-day visit to the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, the top United Nations relief official today highlighted the worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza and the West Bank resulting from closures and restrictions on movement.

“Medical services in Gaza are deteriorating, private industry has more or less collapsed, and there are real worries about education,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said at a press conference in Jerusalem.

“After eight months of very serious restrictions on the movement of goods, the political and security crisis in and around Gaza has increasingly severe humanitarian consequences,” added Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“There is increasing dependence on international aid, which has risen very sharply over the last eight months,” he said, noting that 73 per cent of the population relies on food aid, and concerns are mounting about nutrition, particularly among children.

In addition, “the quality and quantity of water are declining, with some areas having water only for a few hours a day or even a week. Moreover, due to deterioration of the sewage system, some 40 million litres of sewage are pumped daily into the Mediterranean Sea,” he said.

Mr. Holmes called the overall deterioration of living conditions in Gaza “an affront to the dignity of the people there.”

While strongly condemning the firing of rockets from Gaza, he once again called for Gaza crossings to be open for humanitarian supplies and commercial goods.

He also called for the lifting of the closures regime – which has seriously affected the daily lives and economy activities of those living in the West Bank – in a way that would not jeopardise Israel's legitimate security concerns.

While in Jerusalem today, Mr. Holmes met the Director of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also travelled to Ramallah, where he held meetings with the Chief of Staff of the Palestinian President and with the Palestinian Prime Minister. In addition, he met with UN humanitarian partners to discuss the strengthening of aid coordination.

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