U.S.-Based Alliance of relief organizations offers five action steps to improve response
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Despite the recent three-hour cease fires to allow the delivery of food and medical supplies to residents of the Palestinian territory, upwards of 750,000 people still lack access to food, clean water and medical help. U.S.-based international humanitarian aid organizations working in the region see this arrangement to allow sporadic delivery of aid as inhumane and insufficient.
Sam Worthington, President & CEO of the U.S.-based alliance of aid groups known as InterAction, says "The aid provided during the short cease fires is just a drop in the bucket when compared to need. Families still able to live in their homes are traumatized after 13 days of intense fighting and fear becoming moving targets in the battle if they leave their homes to seek supplies. Fleeing is unfortunately not an option for the civilian population."
Mercy Corps' team in Jerusalem reports that Israel's new daily three-hour ceasefire to allow aid into the Gaza Strip has not made any noticeable difference. "It hasn't changed our reality," says David Holdridge, Mercy Corps Regional Program Director for the Middle East. "We're still dealing with the same approval processes for aid, and only a limited number of trucks are going in each day - not nearly enough to satisfy the pressing needs for food, shelter, medical supplies and other items."
Hatem Shurrab, an Islamic Relief staffer also working in Gaza and currently writing a daily "Aid Worker Diary" for BBC News, says things are so dire that he "met a mother who was burning paper in order to boil water for her child. She was doing this because she had no milk..."
Gazans are literally trapped in a battle zone. Ken Bacon, President of Refugees International states, "In similar situations around the world, civilians caught in the midst of conflict would have the option of seeking safety in neighboring countries as refugees. Gazans have no such option, as both Israel and Egypt restrict access for Palestinians to their territory."
Electricity is also scarce and many of Gaza's 1.5 million residents live in high-rise buildings. According to Catholic Relief Services Gaza Field Manager Omar Shaban, "...Imagine how people can live without electricity trying to make it to and from high floors."
Getting humanitarian workers safely in and out of Gaza has proven to be extremely difficult. Many aid organizations have suspended activities and are relying on local partners to transport supplies. According to Mercy Corps staffer Wafa Ulliyan who fled Gaza City in late December and is living with her husband, young daughter, two sisters, and ten other family members, "No one feels safe. There is continuous shelling, no electricity for two days, and every night the children are in a panic." Since leaving Gaza City, Ulliyan has been unable to reach those she left behind.
American humanitarian organizations welcome diplomatic efforts to encourage a cease fire but remain concerned that time is being wasted by political positioning and finger-pointing. John Prideaux-Brune, Oxfam's Country Director in Jerusalem, says, "Every day that passes without a truce is costing innocent lives. Foreign diplomats, governments, and parties to the conflict must stop wasting time apportioning blame and give priority to humanitarian imperatives over political objectives."
To improve their ability to respond to the crisis in Gaza, U.S.-based aid groups are suggesting the following actions:
Aid groups are continuing their efforts to engage Bush administration officials, President-elect Obama's team, and the new Congress on humanitarian needs in Gaza.
To read more about the efforts of individual humanitarian agencies working in Gaza and to view a regularly updated and comprehensive list of crisis responders, visit www.interaction.org/gaza
InterAction has also developed guidelines on the most appropriate ways to help those affected by overseas disasters: http://www.interaction.org/disaster/guide_giving.html.
InterAction is an alliance of more than 170 U.S.-based private relief, international development and refugee assistance organizations. InterAction members have agreed to abide by a set of standards to ensure accountability to donors, professional competence and quality of service.
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