United Nations agency OCHA has launched regular updates on the unfolding COVID-19 crisis in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, with the first report published Tuesday.
According to the initial ‘Emergency Situation Report’, which covers the period 4-24 March, a total of 59 coronavirus cases have been detected in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), 57 in the West Bank and two in the Gaza Strip. 70 percent of West Bank cases are in the Bethlehem urban area.
UN OCHA noted that “although the current number of detected cases remains relatively low, the capacity of the Palestinian health system to cope with an expected increase in COVID-19 cases is severely impaired by longstanding challenges and critical shortages”.
The UN agency noted that “the situation is particularly severe in the Gaza Strip, where the health system has been undermined by the longstanding Israeli blockade, the internal Palestinian divide, a chronic power deficit and shortages in specialized staff, drugs and equipment”.
In addition, in both parts of the oPt, “people living in overcrowded conditions, particularly in refugee camps and densely-populated, poor areas…face a higher risk of contagion due to the precarious sanitation systems, including substandard and irregular water supply and shared latrines”.
UN OCHA raised concerns about the economic impact of the crisis on Palestinian communities, with “the volume of people affected by the loss of income…expected to increase soon, following the tightening of restrictions and its impact on all sectors of economic activity”.
In Gaza specifically, any economic impact would come on top of an already dire situation, with unemployment at almost 43 percent in the last quarter of 2019, youth unemployment at 64 percent, and 53 percent of the population living below the US$4.6 poverty line, UN OCHA added.
UN agencies and NGOs have “developed and begun implementing a range of interventions to support the Palestinian authorities’ efforts” the report noted, and “at the heart of these interventions is the Health Cluster COVID-19 Interagency Response Plan”.
In its current form, the plan “seeks to mobilise for US$ 6.5 million to support these efforts”, of which, less than $1.5 million has been raised so far.