Gaza: The crisis continues

22 Dec 2009 08:37:18 GMT

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Elena Qleibo, Oxfam Food Security and Livelihoods Officer in Gaza, describes the difficulties of doing emergency work during the war, and how a year later, Gaza remains in an ongoing, protracted crisis.
As Oxfam, we were in the process of distributing fresh food parcels when the attacks began, so we had to stop immediately of course. Gaza was virtually cut in two by the war and it was no longer secure for people to go out in the streets.
a couple of days after the war began in late December I was already working with Oxfam’s partner Ma’an Development Centre to contact people in different parts of Gaza to find out what was happening, what the level of destruction was. Immediately I started getting calls from former beneficiaries who were saying they had been displaced.I called Oxfam’s office in Jerusalem and told them what people needed, and that we were getting emergency calls from around Gaza. Was it possible to get money for dry food distribution? We got $200,000 immediately.
The idea was to buy the food, but you cannot buy food in an emergency situation without doing market research, because you don’t want to empty the market.So I think it was on 3 January when I went out to the markets in Gaza City and they told me that the best bet for us was to order food from the outside so it would come through the regular crossings from Israel.
 Israeli authorities prohibited almost all traffic of goods into Gaza, with the exception of  some limited and essential humanitarian aid. It was not going to be that much we ordered from the outside anyway, just enough to last for about two weeks during that time of chaos and desperation.We ordered the food parcels immediately. We were told they would arrive in Gaza by 6 January. Of course a lot of things happened and the food didn’t arrive until 8 January… We got lists for around 4,000 people and we chose the people most in need
.We could not ask people to stand in queues in case they were targeted by the bombing, so we arranged for volunteers to go house-to-house delivering the food. Then a daily three-hour truce began, which gave us some safety, but it was not really reliable.
  Sometimes when we were out the bombardment continued, so it was really not feasible to expose people in that way.I didn’t allow myself to feel fear, because I was here out of my own free will. They wanted to evacuate me three or four times and I decided I was going to stay. If I was going to stay it was not to feel sorry for myself or to feel fear, but to be useful. So there was no space for fear in my head.
But you saw explosions around you and this was very disturbing because while it was my decision to be there, I could not expose people doing distributions or conducting meetings while these things were going on.Nowadays people are fearful of another attack, because the first attack made no sense to them so now they expect anything at any time.  There is a general sense of anxiety in people, but the situation has only further deteriorated because we are now two and a half years into blockade. There has been very little reconstruction following the war because of the blockade. The morale of the people is especially low.The fact that people receive food aid does not guarantee good nutrition. We see there is chronic anaemia in Gaza, there is stunting, there are different problems in relation to small children under five, lactating women… it’s a humanitarian crisis, but it’s an ongoing crisis, a protracted crisis.Being self-sufficient is out of the question. The fact is that when Israel left Gaza, they have left it as an island in the midst of Israel and Egypt by imposing a blockade which locked Gazans from the outside world.

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