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World Stands By As Gazans Sift Through Rubble Three Months after Ceasefire, Warn Aid Agencies

Monday 20 April 2009

Gaza rubble following Israeli bombardment, January 2009.Jerusalem—A coalition of international aid agencies today warned that tens of thousands of Gazans are still homeless and without basic services such as piped drinking water three months after the 18 January ceasefire.

The agencies, including Oxfam International, CARE West Bank and Gaza, War Child Holland and Medical Aid for Palestinians-UK, also called on the international community—and the European Union in particular which in the coming weeks will consider strengthening ties with Israel—to do more than pay lip service to the needs of the people of Gaza whose lives were torn apart during the three-week military operation.

“If the EU does not put the brakes on the process to strengthen ties with Israel, it will be sending a dangerous signal to the world that maintaining a destructive policy of closure is acceptable,” said Martha Myers, Country Director of CARE West Bank and Gaza.

“Gaza’s industry, including the agricultural sector, has almost completely collapsed and reconstruction has proved a near impossible task. Operation Cast Lead destroyed Gaza’s economy which was already severely weakened after months of blockade. It makes no sense to continue depriving ordinary people the opportunity to earn a living and support their families. The crossings must be opened now to allow the normal flow of commerce. If they are not, the people of Gaza simply will not recover,” added Myers.

Reconstruction in Gaza is severely constrained. Materials such as cement and reinforced steel rods are still being denied entry by Israel. This means that the 20,000 families—or at least 140,000 people—whose homes were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable as a result of the conflict are unable to rebuild their lives. Many are living in tents and in makeshift shelters constructed with salvaged bricks and plastic sheeting, with no end in sight.

Furthermore, some 35,000 people still do not have access to piped water or safe sewage disposal. And, three months on, there are still damaged schools, universities, health clinics, hospitals and other parts of the civilian infrastructure that have not been repaired. Most food items and some medicines have been allowed in through the single crossing of Kerem Shalom, but entry remains erratic and many medicines remain out of stock in Gaza.

“There has been zero progress in allowing construction materials in to help people rebuild their lives. This is unacceptable, full stop. World leaders must take practical steps to fully open the crossings and exert as much pressure on Israel and all parties to ensure that families can finally see a light at the end of what has been a very long and dark tunnel. A drip-feed of food aid and medicines is simply not enough,” said John Prideaux-Brune, country director for Oxfam GB in Jerusalem.

The scenes of devastation and despair in Gaza have drawn expressions of dismay across the world from senior world figures such as Javier Solana, the EU’s High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, who said in February that the EU would be helping in the reconstruction process.

Such welcome statements must be followed up by concrete action that will benefit the people of Gaza. Israel continues to fail to meet its obligations of respecting the basic rights of Gazans by denying unrestricted movement to and from Gaza for people, goods and supplies.

This statement is made on behalf of the following members of the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) regarding the crisis in Gaza:

CARE West Bank and Gaza
Oxfam International
War Child Holland
Medical Aid for Palestinians-UK
Action Against Hunger
Norwegian Refugee Council
Caritas Jerusalem
Lutheran World Federation
Gruppo Volontariato Civile
The Swedish Organisation for Individual Relief
Defense for Children International/ Palestine Section
Norwegian Church Aid
ACSUR-Las Segovias
Medico International
Campaign for the Children of Palestine: CCP-JAPAN
Paz con Dignidad
Mennonite Central Committee
CISS—Cooperazione Internazionale Sud Sud
Japan International Volunteer Center
MPDL: Movimiento por la Paz, el Desarme y la Libertad