The Blockade and it's Full Effects
Since Hamas took control of Gaza, its 1.5m
people have been relying on less than a quarter of the volume of imported
supplies they received in December 2005. Some weeks, significantly less than
that has arrived.
Only basic humanitarian items have been
allowed in, and virtually no exports permitted, paralysing the economy. Reduced
fuel supplies and a lack of spare parts have had a heavy knock-on impact on
sewage treatment, waste collection, water supply and medical facilities.
In the wake of the Hamas takeover, Israel
said it would allow only basic humanitarian supplies into the Strip. No specific
list of what is and is not classed as humanitarian exists, although aid agencies
say permitted items generally fall into four categories - human food, animal
food, groceries (cleaning products, nappies etc) and medicines.
About three-quarters of Gaza's residents rely
on some form of food aid. Aid agencies operating in Gaza say they have largely
been able to continue to transport basic supplies such as flour and cooking oil
into the territory - except during a few short periods when all the crossings
have been closed. Israel says it only closes crossings in response to
Palestinian militant attacks or for other security reasons.
While most basic
foodstuffs have generally been allowed into Gaza, a joint survey by three UN
agencies in May 2008 found that all Gaza retailers had run out of flour, rice,
sugar, dairy products, milk powder and vegetable oil on at least three occasions
since June 2007.
Some 750,000 people rely on food aid from the
UN agency for Palestinian refugees Unrwa for their staple foods. The rations
provide about two-thirds of their daily nutritional needs, and must be
supplemented by dairy products, meat, fish and fresh fruit and vegetables bought
on the open market.
While availability of some of these has
dropped - for example, according to the UN, commercial
food imports were less than half the need in December 2007 - the main
problem for Gazans is paying for them.
The bureaucracy of the import process and
fuel shortages for transport, together with rising global prices, have pushed up
costs, at the same time as the decline of the economy and rising unemployment
have squeezed household budgets.
The UN survey found more than half Gaza's
households had sold their disposable assets and were relying on credit to buy
food, three-quarters of Gazans were buying less food than in the past, and
almost all of them were eating less fresh fruit, vegetables and animal protein
to save money.
And some items, the report
said, including baby food, olive oil, nuts, chocolate, spices, juices and
carbonated drinks had been in short supply since the early days of the closure.
FUEL AND POWER
Israel began restricting
fuel imports in late October 2007. As well as shortages for drivers, many of
whom have begun running their vehicles on cooking oil, the consequences have
been far reaching:
Gaza's electricity supply is made up of
144MW from Israel, 17MW from Egypt and the rest from an EU-run power plant
in Gaza which can generate up to 80MW. For much of 2008 it only received
enough fuel to generate 55MW, although this increased to 65MW after the
truce was agreed in July 2008. The plant has also
shut down completely three times because it ran out of fuel. Power cuts -
ranging from two to about 10 hours, remain common across much of Gaza.
Power cuts and shortages of fuel for
back-up generators have affected Gaza's three sewage plants.
Gaza's sewage body said less than 40% of the fuel
required was available in the first half of 2008, and estimated it was
releasing 50-70m litres of raw or poorly-treated sewage into the sea daily.
Aid agencies say water pumping stations
have also struggled with power and fuel shortages, as well as a lack of
spare parts. In May, 15% of people had access to
water 4-6 hours a week, 25% had it every four days, and 60% had it every
70% of agricultural water wells require
diesel for their pumps and many farmers have lost
crops due to lack of irrigation, according to aid agencies. Other food
production has also been affected - for example, rising fishermen's fuel
costs pushed up the price of sardines, and one poultry farmer had to
slaughter 165,000 chicks because he did not have the fuel for the incubators
to keep them alive.
In January 2008, Israel's Supreme Court
dismissed a challenge by human rights groups to the practice of restricting fuel
The court set minimum thresholds that fuel
deliveries should not fall below - compared with before the restrictions, these
were 63% of industrial diesel supplies, 18% of petrol and 57% of diesel imports.
monitored by international agencies show fuel deliveries dropped even below
these minimums at several points in the first half of 2008.
Israel has also closed off fuel supplies
completely in response to specific attacks - once after a Palestinian militant
attack on a fuel depot near the Nahal Oz fuel crossing point, again after mortar
attacks on a crossing itself and in November 2008 after a barrage of rockets
in the wake of an Israeli incursion. All three times, the UN came close to
suspending food aid deliveries.
The first time Gaza's
power plant was shut down, in January 2008, Israel said there was enough fuel in
Gaza and accused Hamas of faking a crisis, but officials from the EU, which runs
the plant, said at the time that fuel supplies were "very low".
Few items other than
food and medicine have entered Gaza in the past year, according to aid agencies.
Restrictions on construction materials, particularly cement, and spare parts for
machinery have had a big impact on projects ranging from water treatment to
UN refugee agency Unwra says a lack of
construction materials has prevented it providing accommodation for 38,000
people living in inadequate conditions
All factories making construction
materials have shut down (13 making tiles, 30 concrete, 145 marble and 250
The construction and maintenance of
roads, water and sanitation infrastructure, medical facilities, schools and
housing/re-housing projects have largely been on hold.
Lack of paper and printing materials
meant school books were distributed four months late for the 2007-8 school
year, Unrwa says, although Israel says it has facilitated access for school
supplies and blamed delays on the Palestinian side.
Small amounts of cement and spare parts for
specific projects have been allowed in at certain points during the year. After
the truce, trucks of cement and gravel began to enter Gaza, as well as shipments
of items such as clothes, shoes and refrigerators. Aid
agencies said the range and volume of products had increased, but the total
volume of goods was only 28% of that entering before the Hamas takeover.
The closures have devastated the private
sector of Gaza's economy. Nothing, apart from a small number of trucks of
strawberries and flowers, has been exported since June 2007.
Combined with the
lack of raw materials, and agricultural inputs such as fertilisers, this has
left approximately 95% of Gaza's industrial facilities closed or operating at
Before the closure, up to about 750 trucks of
furniture, food products, textiles and agricultural produce left Gaza each
month. This was worth half a million US dollars a day.
By December 2007, 75,000 of Gaza's 110,000
private sector workers had been laid off and 3,500 of its 3,900 factories had
closed, according to a UN report.
Some 25,000 tonnes of potatoes and 10,000
tonnes of other crops have perished or been sold at a fraction of their value,
it said. Farmers burned and fed to livestock the flowers they could not export
for Valentine's Day.
The UN says the economy has suffered
"irreversible damage", and that 37% of breadwinners are now unemployed, with on
average 8.6 dependants per employed person.
Medicines have generally been allowed into
Gaza, but Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) say the health system is
"collapsing" and has suffered a "severe deterioration" under the pressure of
shortages of equipment and spare parts, fuel and trained staff.
According to the World Health Organization
(WHO), Gaza health authorities said in April 2008 that 85 urgently needed drugs
and 52 lines of medical supplies (items such as swabs) were out of stock. The
WHO says that the shortages cannot be directly attributed to the Israeli
restrictions, but other humanitarian organisations say the bureaucracy of
gaining permission for imports has affected the supply chain.
Aid agencies say medical institutions have
been largely unable to import spare parts for equipment. The UN said that by
December 2007, the majority of diagnostic equipment, such as X-ray machines and
MRI scanners, in municipal facilities was no longer functioning.
PHR says the inability to send staff outside
Gaza for training is also a problem, giving the example of a new radiotherapy
facility that could not be used because there were no trained staff to use it.
Fuel shortages have also affected hospitals,
with ambulances running out of fuel at points in early 2008, and back-up
generators - needed during power cuts - running low on fuel and lacking spare
Patients in need of urgent medical care are
allowed through Erez crossing points, but PHR says the proportion of patients
being granted permits dropped from 89% in January 2007 to just over half in June
Rafah crossing has been closed since June
2007, although special cases are sporadically allowed to pass through it.
According to figures from the Israeli rights group Gisha, about 4,600 people in
total, including 2,200 pilgrims to Mecca for the Muslim Hajj, have left Gaza
through the crossing in a year - compared to about 20,000 people a month when it
has previously been open regularly.
PHR says 200 patients died
while waiting for permits in the past year. The WHO attributes at least 20 such
deaths, in a two-month period, to the fact the patients could not leave the
Strip for treatment.