Sunday, March 1, 2009

UN Humanitarian Envoy Tours Gaza to Help Facilitate Aid, Calls for Lifting Blockade

Learns that 9,000 metric tons of unsolicited aid are stuck at border

Reuters AlertNet, March 1, 2009 - On his first visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the UN Secretary-General's Special Humanitarian Envoy, Abdul Aziz Arrukban, met with aid agency officials to discuss better ways of bringing in relief supplies and with Gaza residents to assess how much aid they were actually receiving.

"The borders are still closed and goods and building materials still can't enter," said Arrukban, a Saudi national who reports directly to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.

Since Israel's 23-day military campaign in the Gaza Strip ended on 18 January, Arrukban has brokered more than US$50 million in humanitarian aid from two Gulf countries , channeled via UN agencies, for the dilapidated coastal territory.

Qatar donated $40 million, of which $30 million went directly to UN agencies in Gaza and $10 million to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), a stand-by UN fund established to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those affected by natural disasters and armed conflicts [see:]. Gaza received $8 million in aid from the CERF immediately after the conflict.

Saudi Arabia donated $10.5 million, of which the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) received $6 million for emergency food assistance and $500,000 for fuel; and $4 million went to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Acting as a bridge between UN humanitarian agencies and donors, governments and the private sector in the Middle East and North Africa, Arrukban toured Gaza to see for himself the extent of the damage in the enclave and to ensure that relief supplies were actually reaching the most vulnerable people in the Strip.

Regular border closures

The most pressing issue, aid officials told him, was Israel's regular closure of border crossings into Gaza. "Aid cannot be delivered unless the crossings are opened," Christina Blunt, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Gaza, said during a briefing for Arrukban by heads of UN agencies in the enclave.

Over the past few weeks, about 120 trucks a day have been allowed to enter Gaza by the Israeli authorities, OCHA estimated, with about half that number for the private sector. In May 2007, before Hamas won elections in Gaza and a subsequent embargo was placed on the enclave, about 475 trucks entered daily.

The UN envoy held meetings with officials from the Egyptian Red Crescent to discuss a mechanism to facilitate the entry of approximately 9,000 metric tonnes of what a recent Logistics Cluster report [see:] described as "unsolicited bilateral donations" to the people of Gaza. The aid, a large portion lacking documentation and designated recipient organisations in Gaza, has been denied entry into Israel and is being held in al-Arish, Egypt.

The Egyptian government has mandated the Egyptian Red Crescent to take custody of these donations, which originate from a number of Middle Eastern countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, Yemen and Libya....

No comments: