CAIRO, 11 March -- The second plenary of the Seminar on Assistance to Palestinian People in Cairo today was devoted to the theme of “Looking ahead: Identifying the most Urgent Humanitarian, Reconstruction and Development Needs” in the Gaza Strip.
Opening the session, the Chairman of the meeting, Angel Dalmau Fernandez of Cuba, highlighted the issues of restoring basic services, providing shelter, launching reconstruction, giving Gaza's children a future, ending Gaza's isolation, restarting the economy and supporting the Palestinian National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza among the items that required attention.
Samir Abdullah, Minister of Planning, Palestinian Authority, Ramallah, stressed the importance of ensuring Palestinian unity and said that, following Israel’s outrageous and barbaric aggression against Gaza, numerous international agencies and non-governmental organizations had been working on the ground to alleviate the plight of 1.5 million Palestinians. The flash appeal had been launched for an amount of $613 million for the coming nine months. At the donors’ conference in Sharm el-Sheikh last week, the Palestinian Government had introduced a National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza, which represented a general framework for reviving the economy of the Strip.
That Plan placed emphasis on the efforts to revive and enable the private sector and paid particular attention to the situation of women and vulnerable groups, he said. It was also necessary to ensure coordination of various efforts. Among other priorities, he listed the end to the Israeli blockade, revival of the infrastructure, rebuilding of housing, schools and hospitals, repairs of the water and electricity networks and improvement of the cash flow. Programmes were envisioned to deal with the damage, rehabilitate the land, improve the irrigation system, resume agricultural production and resume commercial activities. Bank loans and technical support were to be provided towards that end.
He also noted the importance of efficiency and transparency in the financing of projects and said that the national expenditure played an important role in the reconstruction efforts, with a total of $120 million spent in Gaza every month. That budget provided for the salaries of some 70,000 civil servants and support for 25,000 families. However, the deficit in the national budget for 2009 amounted to $1.15 billion. Following the aggression, additional resources were needed in the amount of some $300 million for public expenditures. The national authorities were facing numerous needs. He appreciated great support for the flash appeal and the pledges of over $4.5 billion at the donor conference last week.
Now that the smoke had settled from Gaza’s skies, local and international human rights organizations had started reporting about the utter devastation following Israel’s assault, said Ghassan Kasabreh, Director, NGO Development Center (NDC), Ramallah. He shared the results of assessments of initial damage and immediate needs in the Gaza Strip, which had been undertaken by various institutions, as well as the outcome of a rapid needs assessment workshop, which the NGO Development Center had held for some 50 Palestinian non-governmental organizations on 3 and 4 March. The vast majority of those organizations had identified the unstable political situation and Israeli occupation among the main detriments to their work. They had also stressed the importance of unity among Palestinian parties, coordination of efforts among all actors, as well as the need to find exit strategies and work in the context of both immediate needs and long-term development.
Palestinian non-governmental organizations remained the stabilizing force in the community, and any planning and efforts must be inclusive of those organizations, he said. Coordination strategies, while addressing early recovery needs, should plan to diminish dependency on humanitarian assistance, while putting in place the foundations for longer-term sustainable development. Civil society and the non-governmental organization sector were key players in complementing the necessary responses.
Jamie Balfour-Paul, Middle East Policy Adviser, Oxfam International, Cairo, said that some 1.37 million people in Gaza required food support, 50,000 were waiting for the restoration of services, electricity needed to be restored to 150,000 people and agricultural support should be provided to 14,000 farming and fishing families. It was also important to restore solid waste collection, create jobs and reduce dependency, and repair and build housing, schools and hospitals. Among the priority areas, he also mentioned rubble removal and movement of commodities. The World Food Programme (WFP) now estimated food import needs for Gaza at 87 trucks per day plus 25 trucks of non-food items to support fresh food production.
What needed to change? he asked, listing complete lifting of the Israeli blockade, access to healthy food and produce, quality health services, proper education and restarting factories and businesses, as well as deliveries of fuel, among the answers.
Cyril Du Pre De Saint Maur, Regional Director for the Middle East, Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), Amman Regional Office, said that needed interventions across all sectors in the Gaza Strip were estimated at $1.3 billion, including $500 million for the infrastructure. Some 100,000 people required immediate housing assistance. Access issues were the key impediments to reconstruction. Under those conditions, there was an urgent need for all stakeholders to work together and build on lessons learnt. Recovery plans should be flexible to adjust quickly to an uncertain environment.
He advocated a participatory approach to implementation, saying that some 200 construction companies in Gaza would be able to start construction as soon as the first truck load of cement was allowed in. Also important were advocacy and a targeted approach. In recent interviews, food basket recipients had prioritized cash or employment over other kinds of distribution programmes. The projects where the nature of activities was identified by the local population were among the most successful. In the context of the recent crisis, the Logistics Cluster of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had proven to be an effective way of leveraging joint pressure to facilitate clearance for emergency supplies to enter Gaza. He also described ACTED's “poor families to poor families” programme, involving distribution of fresh food commodities bought locally in Gaza.
Patricia McPhillips, Special Representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Jerusalem, said that 56 per cent of the population in Gaza was below 18 years old. Thus, what had happened in Gaza between 27 December and 18 January and what was happening today, had happened to a population made up primarily of children. During the 22 days of conflict, children had accounted for roughly a third of the casualties; 431 children had been killed and 1,872 had been injured. Many children had witnessed the deaths of caregivers, siblings and friends, which caused extreme psychological trauma. The fact that all border crossings had been virtually sealed meant that children and their families had nowhere to run to, had no refuge from the violence.
During her visit to Gaza with the UNICEF Executive Director last week, children had recounted stories of violence and fear, she said. However, they were determined to move forward and normalize their lives “as best they can”. In order to support children and their caregivers, it was imperative to open crossings for humanitarian supplies and workers. Urgent needs also included educational materials. The task ahead to address the needs of children was formidable, but it was not impossible. UNICEF would work with partners to create a protective environment for children. Education offered the most powerful way of bringing normalcy and hope back to children and communities. Particular attention would also be paid to youth and adolescents, as well as overall health of the child. The importance of psychological support could not be overestimated.
Husam Zomlot, Visiting Scholar, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, cautioned against “rebuilding a rebuild” in Gaza. During the Oslo process -- undertaken in the absence of the current Palestinian divisions -- the international community had generously contributed to the rebuilding and economic development of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, yet the outcome had been dismal. Indeed, the Palestinian economy had lost one third of its aggregate income in the first three years of the Oslo process.
If a new international coordination system was constructed for Gaza, it should be led by major world Powers and multilateral institutions, particularly the United Nations, he said. Donor coordination mechanisms must, right from the outset, define the parameters for peacemaking and be ready, willing and able to intervene when a party deviated from or obstructed peacemaking efforts. Ultimately, donors could not afford to accept a nominal role and should be prepared to challenge aspects of agreements they deemed unsustainable. Confining themselves to the provisions of bilateral agreements between the two unequal parties should not be repeated.
Regarding the two-State solution, he said the international community’s attitude should change from helping Israel to enforcing the solution. Most international assistance should be channelled through inclusive and representative Palestinian organizations.