The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has stressed that humanitarian solidarity with the people of Gaza and lifting the Israeli blockade imposed on them since 2006 is much more important than the aid provided by supporters. The second largest international organisation after the UN said in a monthly report issued by its Department of Humanitarian Affairs that over 100 Arab, Islamic and international delegations visited the Gaza Strip in 2012. All called for the blockade to be lifted.
The monthly report for March 2013 pointed out that some of the delegations carried with them humanitarian and medical aid, while others volunteered in various humanitarian fields, especially in the medical sector.
The OIC noted that the Gaza Strip suffers from a severe shortage of medicine, medical supplies and qualified medical professionals as a result of the blockade imposed by Israel and its allies. The report pointed out that the near-monthly visits by the Miles of Smiles convoy provided medical aid in an attempt to make up the shortfall of supplies. Miles of Smiles has made 21 visits to Gaza supported by activists from numerous Arab and Western countries. Several visits have been made by East Asian delegations, including Malaysia and Indonesia, which also took medical aid.
Moreover, the report pointed out that most of the visiting delegations were focused on relief efforts that would have a short-term effect but were not geared towards real growth in the Gaza Strip by contributing to the economy or social projects based on serious studies of local needs and with prior coordination.
Critically, said the OIC, some of the medicine and other aid had past the use-by date or was not really needed; items such as diet pills and shrouds, for example. It stressed the need to coordinate relief efforts to serve the specific needs of the Palestinians based the reality of the humanitarian situation in Gaza. This, suggested the report, could be done through the establishment of a body of local and international NGO representatives to ensure that convoys carry with them the maximum humanitarian benefits for Palestinians in Gaza.
The number of delegations visiting Gaza during March 2013 was 52, bringing the total number of delegations since the start of the blockade to 414. The most prominent of the March delegations was an American medical group of 3 surgeons specialising in face and jaw reconstruction who performed a number of operations. The groundbreaking Miles of Smiles convoy made its 20th visit along with groups from Tunisia, France and Malaysia. A delegation from the Turkish Chamber of Commerce was intended to boost economic contacts with Gaza. Academics from the University of Bradford in Britain studied the education situation and presented several lectures to students in Palestinian universities.
Although March 2013 was relatively quiet in terms of Israeli breaches of the truce agreement, it was noted that limited incursions by Israeli armed forces during which Palestinians have been wounded and killed were clear violations of the ceasefire terms. A truce was brokered by Egypt in November which brought an end to Israel's 8-day offensive against civilians in the Gaza Strip.
Fishermen continue to be subject to harassment by the Israeli Navy, with gunfire aimed at individuals and their vessels.
On a local level, the report mentioned that two children were killed in March as a result of an electric shock. Four more children and 3 adults died in separate car accidents, while 5 Palestinians were injured while working in the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.
The OIC reported that the Egyptian authorities kept the Rafah Border Crossing open throughout March 2013. An agreement signed between Qatar and the Egyptian authorities also allowed building materials and equipment to be taken into Gaza at Rafah, which is normally reserved for pedestrian traffic. Almost 700 trucks were allowed through in March.
The Israelis, meanwhile, closed the Karam Abu Salem crossing for 17 days in March for various reasons, including Jewish holidays. The crossing only operated at 41 per cent of its usual capacity, and met only 11 per cent of the Palestinians' needs. A near full ban on exports is still being imposed by the Israelis. Only 9 truckloads of flowers, 70 trucks of empty plastic containers, 7 with biscuits on board and 1 lorry loaded with tomatoes were allowed to leave Gaza in March.
The economic effects of the blockade are such that 80 per cent of the people in Gaza are dependent on food aid provided by the international community.
The electricity crisis in Gaza intensified during March 2013, said the OCI. "It is natural for the demand for electricity to increase with the growth of the population and the increased use of electronic devices which consume a lot of power, such as air conditioners; however the amount of electricity available has remained the same, which is neither practical nor logical." Gaza's electricity generating plant did not exceed 111 megawatts of output even when all three generators were in operation. Before it was bombed by the Israelis the output was 216 MW. A lack of fuel means that the plant is rarely able to operate anywhere near full capacity, as does a shortage of financial resources due to the inability of customers to pay for their supply. A maximum of 146 megawatts of electricity is supplied to Gaza by the Egyptian authorities but power cuts are still frequent and lengthy.
Crucially, the water supply in the Gaza Strip is dangerously low. The underground aquifer has high salinity levels and is contaminated with toxic organic and non-organic substances. The total annual water shortage now stands at 61 million cubic metres. Inadequate rainfall means that the overall level of the aquifer is falling which leads to more contamination. Two other factors were reported as being responsible for the escalating water crisis in the Gaza Strip: Israel's drainage of the Strip's groundwater and population growth in the Palestinian territories, which stands at an average of 3.5 per cent per annum.
According to the OIC, unless something is done as a matter of urgency to address the water crisis, the situation will reach disaster status within the next two years.