09/25/2018, 18.33
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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After Trump's cuts the situation in Gaza is turning into a 'disaster'

Food, medicines and school material are in increasingly short supplies. Residents are in shock and despair. Hospitals no longer have medicines or equipment. The US also cut funds to Caritas, which funds hospitals in East Jerusalem and outreach programmes between Israelis and Palestinians. UNRWA can provide services until mid-October.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – After the US cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the situation in Gaza has become a disaster with growing shortages of food, medicine and even school material (books, notebooks, pens) for children.

By 30 September, US cuts will also affect Caritas Jerusalem, which is present in the Strip with a medical team, said Sister Bridget Tighe, director general of the Catholic charity, speaking to AsiaNews (pictures 2 to 4).

“I visited one of these clinics last week,” said the nun, “and talked to women with their children waiting for the doctors. The mood in the crowded waiting room was not one of anger or revenge but of shock and near despair.  ‘Disaster’ was a word I heard frequently. One woman, a widow with young children, who got UNRWA coupons every three months for basic food items was told the previous day that there would be no more food. ‘How I am I going to feed my children?’ she asked.”

"Others told me that previously UNRWA gave school uniforms, textbooks, notebooks and pencils to children beginning school, but that stopped when the US cut off funds. One woman said that her little girl cried when she went to school in old clothes because they could not afford new uniforms. Others told me about sick relatives that could not afford medicine. Everywhere there is fear for what the future will bring.”

Gaza’s healthcare system has continued to decline over the past few months. “Hospitals are suffering from severe lack of essential drugs, shortage of fuel for generators and spare parts for medical equipment. It is almost impossible for Gaza residents to get permission from the Israeli authorities to travel to Jerusalem or the West Bank for medical treatment, and the US administration has said it will stop funding Arab hospitals in East Jerusalem.”

"This combined lack of necessary drugs and equipment, denial of the right to travel to get medical care, the threatened stopping of funds to the hospitals in East Jerusalem and restriction on importing medical equipment and spare parts has a devastating effect on the already struggling health system. Gazans are resilient but they are losing hope as the international community seems unwilling or unable to secure and guarantee their basic human rights.”

In recent months, in addition to cuts to funding for the UN, the Trump administration also cancelled aid worth US$ 200 million for West Bank and Gaza development, US$ 25 million for East Jerusalem hospitals and US$ 10 million for projects designed to encourage dialogue and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Caritas too has suffered cuts. The organisation provides quality medical assistance to ten marginalised communities in the Strip. A team of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians and educators visit each community every two weeks. This was funded by USAID, but funding will stop as of 30 September.

To fill the gap, Caritas recently launched an appeal to find the necessary funds to meet its budget needs of about US$ 145,000, which is currently covered at 70 per cent.

Almost two million people live in Gaza, 70 per cent dependent on external aid, particularly UNRWA, which provides education, food and medical assistance.

Over the past few weeks more than 250 people have lost their jobs. In the Strip, youth (15-29) unemployment is 60 per cent. About 13,000 people work for the UN. Yesterday, 250 schools remained closed because of a general strike by UNRWA employees.

“Our budget deficit still stands at 186 million USD,” UNRWA’s spokesman Chris Gunness told AsiaNews. “[A]t present we can only guarantee to deliver service until the middle of October. However, we are holding a meeting with donors in New York this week and we are hoping to close the funding gap”.

Meanwhile, a report released today by the World Bank paints a bleak picture. Gaza’s economy is "in free fall". In the first three months of 2018 growth reached minus 6 per cent, with signs of further deterioration.

Photo by Caritas Jerusalem

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