CRS, one of our Caritas members in the USA, has written along with other American aid agencies to the US government with its concerns on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
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The Honorable Dr. Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Dear Secretary Rice,
As leaders of major international relief and development organizations operational in the Palestinian Territories, we are writing to express our grave concern about the humanitarian disaster taking place in the Gaza Strip which has worsened exponentially since we first wrote to you one year ago.
Nearly two weeks into the fighting between Hamas and the Israeli Government, it is estimated that 758 people have been killed and more than 3,000 injured, including humanitarian workers and medical staff working in Gaza. Among the dead are 257 children. Scores of rockets are being fired into Southern Israel on a daily basis, and Gazans and Israelis alike are living in fear and insecurity. In a recent incident, 40 Palestinian civilians were killed as they sheltered in an UNRWA school.
There is a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Hospitals in Gaza are on the brink of collapse, trying to cope with a flood of casualties. Doctors face severe shortages of essential medical supplies, including medicines, sterilizing equipment, blood, bandages, beds, as well as medical staff. With 75% of the electricity cut off in Gaza, and a serious shortage of fuel, hospitals are struggling to function and the most vulnerable patients are at serious risk. An estimated 1 million people are living without water or power, including 560,000 children, and sanitation services are not functioning due to the fighting. Gaza’s sewage system is highly dangerous, posing serious risks of the spread of water borne disease. Sewage continues to flood into Beit Lahiya, farmland, and the sea due to electricity cuts to waste water pumping stations. To date 16 schools have been damaged from the airstrikes. Of these, five received direct hits. In Israel, two schools have been hit by rockets fired from Gaza. Prior to the current operation 80 percent of Gaza’s population was reliant on food aid, and presently many are having serious difficulties obtaining basic food items.
Thousands of homes have been damaged making them difficult to live in due to the cold weather, and thousands have been displaced from their homes. The long term trauma and psychological scars can’t begin to be measured.
Many of our agencies have been forced to suspend operations due to the fighting and are unable to get humanitarian goods in to respond to the enormous human suffering. Our local and partner staff based in Gaza are being severely affected by the disaster, in some cases even losing their lives. The crossings have been open only intermittently, allowing a trickle of aid through. This is not enough to support 1.5 million people running out of food and water. The unsafe conditions mean that many families are too frightened to leave their homes to get aid. Although we welcome any move to improve humanitarian access, the decision by the Israeli Government to halt military operations for 3 hours is clearly inadequate to deal with the scale of the humanitarian crisis. Moreover it is not a substitute for a comprehensive ceasefire which would allow an unbroken flow of humanitarian assistance and begin to reduce human suffering. Without a full opening of the crossings to and from Gaza for humanitarian and commercial goods, and of people, the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate.
Finally, it will be important once this emergency phase has passed to begin immediately transitioning into activities that build a base for longer term economic and social recovery – and aid that is sustained long enough for these activities to be effective. We would hope that US government assistance packages would allow for a broader range of activities to bring the kind of economic and social stability that will foster progress aimed at more lasting solutions to the conflict.
We urgently request that the United States Government use its influence to:
1) Press for an immediate ceasefire respected by all parties leading to a comprehensive and permanent cessation of hostilities.
2) Restore unrestricted humanitarian access for staff of international NGOs.
3) Restore unrestricted humanitarian access by reopening crossings into and out of Gaza for humanitarian and commercial goods
4) Ensure that humanitarian goods and basic supplies are able to move freely within Gaza
5) Press on all parties the urgent need for meaningful momentum towards a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We thank you for your prompt attention to these matters.