Ramallah, Occupied West Bank -  A year and a half after Israel's last war on Gaza, the humanitarian crisis continues to grow in the strip as a result of water contamination, energy shortages and a stagnant unemployment rate, according to the United Nations.

On Wednesday, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OCHA-oPT) launched an appeal, in co-ordination with the Palestinian Authority, to collect $571m for emergency services across the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Humanitarian Response Plan, an umbrella financing project in its 14th year, seeks funds from international donors for programmes run by 63 UN agencies and 144 non-governmental organisations, reaching 1.6 million Palestinians who are in immediate need of education, food, shelter, clean water and protection services during 2016.

"This humanitarian operation in the occupied Palestinian territory is unique from other operations around the world," said David Carden, head of  UN's OCHA-oPT office. "It originates from the impact of nearly 50 years of Israeli occupation, the main driver of humanitarian need." 

Most of the aid will target 1.2 million Palestinians in Gaza, more than half of the total population in the besieged coastal Mediterranean strip. The widest margin of the appeal, $300m, will go towards food for 1.6 million Palestinians, of whom 46 percent are children.

Another 1.7 million Palestinians do not have access to clean water throughout the occupied territory.

A further 1.5 million people "have been displaced or are at risk of displacement as a result of a man-made and natural disaster", and are in need of shelter. Nearly 950,000 of those without stable housing live in Gaza.


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In the food appeal, the UN said Palestinians would be given aid parcels, cash to make purchases themselves, and infrastructure development for the agricultural industry.

The question of money is increasingly tied to the political question. There are increasing barriers to humanitarian access, movement to both humanitarian workers and continuing barriers to imports.

Vance Culbert, Country Director of Norwegian Refugee Council

Within the blueprint, more than half of the funds are earmarked for Gaza, where 900,000 people are in need of support, a dramatic increase from just 80,0000 Palestinians without enough food in the year 2000.

But the rising malnourishment, according to Bo Schack, the director of UNRWA operations in Gaza,  is not because of lack of resources, as is the case in other areas in the region where the UN operates food programmes.

Economic decline and salary freezes across Gaza make it impossible for many families to buy food from markets, Schack said.

He added that malnutrition in Gaza was not due to lack of access to food, as in Syria or other areas in the region where the UN operates. Rather, it has to do with soaring poverty figures.

Unemployment in Gaza is the highest in the world at 43 percent, according to a World Bank report in 2015.The same report found Gaza's gross domestic product fell by 50 percent in the year after Israel's blockade of the Gaza strip in 2006.

This loss was compounded by three Israeli wars on Gaza in seven years, the last in 2014 leaving many Palestinians in Gaza without clean water and electricity. This has further taxed the local healthcare system as basic medical needs have increased from the crumbling infrastructure.

Gaza is currently energised by one partially functional power plant. Hospitals suffer from the power shortages in particular. Electrical surges, resulting from the power cuts, destroyed medical devices that are too expensive to replace.

Medhat Abbas, the health ministry's director general, told Al Jazeera that Gaza's public hospitals were overcrowded. "The patients are waiting in the emergency rooms.The situation is miserable," Abbas said.

"Sixty percent of hospital staff have not received their salaries for months now. Doctors are frustrated and depressed because they are not taking a salary and they have needs that they can't meet any more." 

Another problem facing public hospitals is the faulty desalination ventures. "It's like I'm expecting fish to come from the taps. The water is very bad in our hospitals," Abbas said.


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The UN appeal will not address the issue of stalled reconstruction efforts in Gaza. Aid agencies decided to remove it from the appeal after two-thirds of donors did not honour their commitment to Gaza last year.

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With rebuilding cancelled and delegated to a separate international drive, the 2016 appeal will instead give Palestinians cash to find housing solutions in Gaza's already overcrowded cities.

"Rent assistance is the only solution that remains," said Vance Culbert, country director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which operates programmes in Gaza and the West Bank funded by the humanitarian response plan (HRP).

"The question of money is increasingly tied to the political question. There are increasing barriers to humanitarian access, movement to both humanitarian workers and continuing barriers to imports," said Culbert.

The UN estimates that 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged in Israel's war on Gaza in 2014, which killed 2,251 Palestinians and 72 Israelis.

"Last year there were several temporary solutions that included importing wood for temporary structures. This, however, is not the case in the HRP this year because wood has been blocked," Culbert said.

Culbert added that Israeli military restrictions on movement in the occupied West Bank have forced some humanitarian workers to operate at night "because of army restrictions during daylight hours.

"It's getting harder for us to move staff, it's getting harder for us to move goods."

Source: Al Jazeera