UN agency says cold weather is adding to growing misery in Gaza

Other News Materials 1 February 2008 17:48 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees on Friday said exceptionally cold weather was making life more difficult for the 1.5 million people living in Gaza and facing extreme hardship as a result of border closures.

The agency said it hoped talks planned for next week and headed by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair to try and ease the access crisis would be "fruitful."

UNRWA Spokesman Matthias Burchard said in Geneva: "It is just not acceptable that whole communities are penalized for the condemnable actions of a few."

Jerusalem was under snow and aid deliveries were further hindered from there, while the Sofa and Karni crossings remained closed.

The critical shortage of fuel meant Gaza was receiving merely 75 per cent of its electricity needs, leading to long power cuts. Up to 40,000 cubic tons of raw sewage was being pumped into the sea every day because of a lack of fuel to power the Gaza Coastal Municipal Water Utility.

The UNRWA said costs were spiralling with containers full of supplies stranded dockside. There were 161 lorry loads of food now waiting at the port of Ashdod.

Up to 12 trucks had been turned away at the Kerem Shalom crossing, despite agreement with Israel forces to allow them entry. A few days ago the Israeli military had agreed 50 lorries a day should enter Gaza. In total 28 had entered in the last 10 days, the UNRWA said, describing the situation in the West Bank as "equally grim."

Until now, the UNRWA has raised only 1 per cent of its December appeal for 237 million dollars for the occupied Palestinian territories for 2008.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it was critical that border closures were relaxed as had been promised in the coming days.

The WFP, which normally sends 15 trucks into Gaza a day, five days a week, had only succeeded in bringing in 20 in two weeks.

The WFP could only provide 61 per cent of the daily needs of the three quarters of the population of Gaza that relies on food handouts from the UN.

UN children's agency UNICEF warned that a quarter of a million children, due to return to school Saturday, faced freezing classrooms as well as equipment shortages.

In a statement Saeed Harb, who runs schools in the south of Gaza said: "Children are finding it almost impossible to learn and you can see it in their falling marks."