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Gazans 'searching bins for food' as humanitarian crisis worsens: UNRWA chief

Gaza is under siege [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 October, 2020

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Some Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip are facing such dire circumstances that they are forced to scour bins for food, said UNRWA's head Philippe Lazzarini.
Residents in the besieged Gaza Strip are resorting to searching bins for scraps of food in order to survive, according to the head of UNRWA.

Describing the state in which Palestinian refugees in Gaza live, Philippe Lazzarini described the situation as hopeless.

"In Gaza, people are going through the garbage," Lazzarini said, referring to reports from UNRWA stationed in the besieged Palestinian enclave, according to The Guardian.

"More people are fighting to provide one or two meals a day to their families."

Out of Gaza's 1.8 million population, 1.4 million are refugees.

The descendants of Palestinians who fled what was to become Israel during the country's creation in 1948 - referred to as the Al-Nakba or "The Catastrophe" - make up around 70 percent of Gaza's population.

The UNRWA, which was set up specifically for Palestinian refugees, has experienced a cashflow crisis since US President Donald Trump cut all funding to the agency in 2018 as relations with Palestine's government broke down.

This is despite the UNRWA not being affiliated with the Palestinian government and accusations that Trump is weaponising and politicising aid. 

The US was traditionally the largest individual donor to UNRWA giving around $300 million to the organisation annually. 

"It's a threat, it’s a real threat," Lazzarini said, commenting on Washington cuts. "We have to take this threat into consideration."

Read also: UN agency for Palestinian refugees launches urgent coronavirus appeal

While the UNRWA is working to rebuild its relationship with the US, Lazzarini suggested that Trump's move might have backfired. 

Trump's aid cut led to a wave of "exceptional solidarity around UNRWA", he said, with other global donors making up the shortfall and 2018 being the body's most successful money-raising run for its core budget in the past five years.

"For the time being, while the relevancy or the legitimacy sometimes might be questioned, the mainstream support thinks differently," he said.

But not having a stable long-term solution to replace the US' contribution is destabilising UNRWA.

Lazzarini said he has been focused on tackling the books first by rallying donors, despite the limitations of the coronavirus crisis.

"In such a highly unstable, volatile environment, we need a predictable UNRWA," he said. "We need a predictable organisation and predictable funding."

"We are constantly in crisis mode when it comes to the cashflow … UNRWA is constantly running after the cash," Lazzarini added.

Over a decade of siege

In 2006, Israel imposed a land, sea, and air blockade on the strip, effectively turning the coastal enclave into an open-air prison, where basic necessities such as food, fuel and medicines are severely controlled.

Israel insists its blockade is necessary to isolate Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since 2008, scarring the besieged enclave.

Critics say the blockade, along with periodic bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of the coastal enclave's 2 million residents.

In 2014, the UN - along with four other human rights organisations - predicted that Gaza would become uninhabitable by 2020.

Nearly 70 percent of Gaza's population is food insecure and around 80 percent of Palestinians in the beseiged enclave are reliant on international aid, according to the United Nations.

In addition to damaging crops, Israel routinely blocks food deliveries from reaching Gaza, along with restricting Palestinians from fishing within their own maritime territory.

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