The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) follows up on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip in light of the state of emergency announced to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
PCHR warns of catastrophic deterioration in the living conditions of the Gaza Strip population if the state of emergency is maintained for a lengthy period. PCHR hereby calls upon the Palestinian Government to uphold its legal responsibilities and find mechanisms to protect the poor, unemployed and day laborers and to support low-income households, who have lost their incomes due to the state of emergency.
Even before the state of emergency, the people of the Gaza Strip have suffered from harsh living conditions with high rates of unemployment and poverty due to the Israeli-imposed blockade on the Gaza Strip for the last 13 years, with restrictions on the movement of persons and goods, the ban on exports, targeted attacks on the industrial and production sectors and destroying 70% of it during Israeli offensives against the Gaza Strip.
The measures taken by the Palestinian Authority (PA) under the internal division have intensified the Gaza Strip crises. Since April 2017, the PA adopted a series of measures against its Gaza Strip employees, cutting salaries of hundreds of them on political grounds, including families of martyrs, prisoners and wounded persons; enforcing general salary deductions on all public servants; and forcing many into early retirement. These measures are in violation of the 2003 amended Palestinian Basic Law, Civil Service Law, and the Law of Service in the Palestinian Security Forces of 2005.
All of the above was a main contributing factor to the increased unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip to 45% (i.e. 217,100 are unemployed) and resulted in the outbreak of poverty among its people as the poverty rate reached around 53% according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Meanwhile, more than 67% of the Gaza Population suffer from food insecurity according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), depicting a full-scale disaster.
The state of emergency enforce in the Gaza Strip since Mid-March has perpetuated the humanitarian and living crises for the people. In addition to the poor and low-income families, thousands of day laborers at the institutions that have been closed due to the emergency state (schools, universities, kindergartens, NGOs, civil society organizations, border crossings, wedding halls, cafes and weekly public markets), have lost their source of income that sustained their most basic needs and day-to-day necessities of their families.
In addition, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) announced on Sunday, 22 March 2020, that the food aid provided to at least 1,170,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip will be temporarily suspended until a safer delivery method is decided upon. UNRWA clarified in a statement that the suspension is a precautionary measure to maintain the safety of UNRWA’s staff and beneficiaries.
The state of emergency declared in the Gaza Strip, especially quarantine measures, is a public safety imperative and a national responsibility that must be adhered to in this delicate situation. Similarly, the Palestinian government has an obligation to guarantee the adequate living and humanitarian conditions for citizens who have lost their sources of income and the minimum standards for a dignified life due to the state of emergency.
In light of the fear of deteriorating living conditions of the Gaza Strip population, especially the poor and low-income people and per-day workers, in the case of a Coronavirus spread, PCHR:
- Reminds Israel of its obligations, as an occupying power of the Gaza Strip, to its population, in accordance with Article 55 of the Geneva Convention of 1949, which states: “The occupying Power shall, to the fullest extent of its means, provide the population with food and supplies and must take into account the needs of the civilian population”.
- Calls upon the Palestinian government to urgently intervene to ensure the protection of the poor and low-income people in light of the exceptional circumstance by allocating budgets to support them and increasing the number of beneficiaries from Ministry of Social Affairs’ programs in the Gaza Strip. Thus, we can ensure the provision of a decent life to Palestinians and enable them to combat Coronavirus and its repercussions.
- Calls upon service providers to postpone collection on due bills, particularly basic services such as water, electricity, communications, education, etc., until the current crisis and emergency measures end.
- Calls upon authorities in the Gaza Strip to provide the necessary healthcare to citizens while they are in quarantine centers, home quarantine or when imposing compulsory quarantine, and that the official authorities provide the necessary basic services (food, water and shelter) to them.
- Calls upon authorities in the Gaza Strip to combat monopoly and price manipulation.