(photo credit: AP [file])
International agencies asked donor countries on Tuesday for $462 million in aid to the Palestinians for 2008, to counter rising poverty and the closure of Gaza by Israel and Egypt.
The appeal came from UN aid agencies and dozens of nongovernmental organizations. If the money is granted, the Palestinians would become the third largest recipient of such aid after Sudan and Congo, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
In December, dozens of donor countries and international organizations pledged $7.7 billion in aid to the Palestinians over three years. Some of the aid would go to the Palestinian Authority, some to development projects and some to international agencies. The money requested Tuesday would come out of the December pledges, but it remains unclear whether the goal will be met.
UN officials said their appeal was realistic, but would barely make a dent in rising poverty and unemployment, especially in Gaza.
"This is like a painkiller in a drip feed to a man suffering years with a sick body," said Filippo Grandi, deputy commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency.
On Monday, Grandi's agency and the World Food Program said they would have to suspend food distribution to hundreds of thousands of Gazans by the end of the week for lack of truck fuel, if the closure continues. On Tuesday, Israel delivered fuel for Gaza's sole power plant, partially lifting the blockade.
The UN said most of the aid in 2008 would be used for food distribution and job creation. The UN, citing figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, said 79 percent of Gaza's estimated 1.5 million residents lived in poverty, and most relied on food aid.
UN officials said West Bank residents were also suffering, but to a lesser extent.
Almost half the Palestinians there live in poverty, Grandi said.
Also Tuesday, the International Red Cross issued a dire warning on the state of basic services in the Gaza Strip, calling on Israel to lift the blockade imposed on Thursday in response to Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks on western Negev communities.
The agency said a shipment would be allowed into Gaza later Tuesday, but that aid needed to be allowed into the Strip on a regular basis to prevent a complete collapse of health and sanitation services.
"Deliveries of essential humanitarian goods must be secured in the long run to prevent more hardship and to avoid the collapse of the already fragile infrastructure," said Dorothea Krimitsas, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Krimitsas said the situation was precarious, with Gaza's hospitals pooling their fuel so that life-saving services could be maintained, such as surgery and intensive care units.
Medical supplies, however, were running out and health staff were having problems getting to work because transportation had become more difficult, Krimitsas told reporters.
"There is no functioning central heating in the hospitals," she added.
Dr. Margaret Chan, secretary-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), stated Tuesday that it is "concerned about the health situation in and around Gaza and the suffering this has caused for civilian populations in the area."
Chan also warned the frequent electricity cuts and the limited power available to run hospital generators have disrupted the functioning of intensive care units, operating theaters and emergency rooms.
"In the central pharmacy, power shortages have interrupted refrigeration of perishable medical supplies, including vaccines," the WHO statement read. "WHO consignments of essential medicines and consumables have recently been delayed at the border."