Source: Save the Children Alliance
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Westport, CT (March 10, 2008) —
Save the Children has joined five other humanitarian organizations working in Gaza in calling for renewed efforts to end the escalating crisis that is putting thousands of children at risk. Here is the joint statement:

The six largest international aid organizations responding to the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza urge the international community and all parties concerned to take immediate steps to stop the violence and alleviate the suffering of Gaza’s 1.5 million people.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), World Vision, Save the Children, CARE, Oxfam, and Mercy Corps call on Israel, The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and Hamas in Gaza to stop the violence, return to the negotiating table, and reestablish full humanitarian access to Gaza. They further call on the international donor community to ensure that the levels of humanitarian aid going into Gaza reflect the severity of need.

As the United Nations emergency relief coordinator John Holmes recently noted, medical services in Gaza are deteriorating, private industry has more or less collapsed, and increasing poverty and dependence on international aid, has risen sharply over the past eight months. Gaza’s hospitals lack sufficient beds, drugs, resuscitation devices, needles, and blood to meet the demand and more than 80 percent of the population in Gaza is receiving emergency supplementary rations from U.N. agencies as their main source of food.

Poverty rates in Gaza have risen to nearly 80 percent of the total population while unemployment is between 40-50 percent. The private sector which generates 53 percent of all jobs in Gaza has been devastated the large number of bankrupt businesses. Nearly 40,000 workers who depend on cash cropping and are supporting one quarter of the population who have no income because of massive layoffs in the agricultural sector.

The quality and quantity of water in Gaza is also declining. Forty percent of the population has access to water for only a few hours a day. Some families have even less access to clean water because municipal authorities lack the fuel and spare parts needed to maintain the fragile water delivery infrastructure.

In addition, sanitation has become a significant health issue. The Municipal authorities’ inability to maintain and operate the city’s sewage pumps and reservoirs means that many Gazans have no means of safely disposing of their waste. Some 40 million liters of raw or only partially treated sewage is being pumped into the Mediterranean Sea every day, raising concern among health authorities of outbreaks of communicable diseases and long term risks not only to the environment in Gaza, but also the coastlines of Israel and Egypt.

Children are among those most at risk. Recent reports indicate that there has been an increase in chronic disease and malnutrition among children under five in the Gaza Strip, as well as an increase in children suffering from diarrhea, insomnia and anxiety. John Holmes reported, for example, that rates of anemia and diarrhea among children have skyrocketed by 40 percent and 20 percent respectively over the past year. Children’s education is also suffering. Almost 2000 children have dropped out of school in the last five months because their parents cannot afford to send them. Due to the closures of borders, schools are short of textbooks and other resources, and the exam failure rate has soared to 80-90 percent of the population despite the region’s reputation for high levels of educational achievement.

Relief organizations report that their access to Gaza has been dramatically reduced which has hindered their ability to adequately meet people’s basic needs. Mercy Corps is having trouble maintaining its job creation program due to the lack of construction materials and sewing materials. CARE’s water and sanitation projects have been put on hold because it cannot obtain the required cement, pipes, and pumps to do the job. Likewise, Save the Children cannot fully support children with its protection programs because its staff can no longer obtain the permits required to enter Gaza from the West Bank, its vehicles in Gaza do not have any fuel to reach project sites, and the continued violence makes it difficult for parents to allow children to leave their houses.

To respond effectively to the situation in Gaza, the five relief organizations urge the United States, UK, EU and the rest of the international community to work with all parties involved in the conflict to:

Stop the violence and a return to the negotiating table.

Ensure the protection and the well-being of the civilians in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel.

Enforce the full implementation of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which was announced by Secretary of State Rice in Jerusalem on November 15, 2005.

Establish procedures to manage border crossings and re-establish full humanitarian and commercial access to Gaza, including specifically:

– Access to treatment abroad for patients requiring urgent medical care allowing for parents to accompany children under the age of 18.

– Essential inputs for the maintenance and rehabilitation of public services (water, sewage, electricity, public health) including spare parts, cement, technical assistance and cotton which is essential for locally made hygiene items.