S-Gís Humanitarian Envoy Visits OPT and Reports on Crisis

The grave deterioration of the living conditions and humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, due to the socioeconomic despair and devastation caused by the actions of the Israeli occupying forces, has drawn considerable international attention and concern.

In light of the growing humanitarian crisis facing the Palestinian people, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, appointed Ms. Catherine Bertini as his Personal Humanitarian Envoy. Ms. Bertini, the former director of the World Food Programme, was charged with assessing the situation and reporting to the Secretary-General, and through him to the Quartet, on what should be done to respond to it and to prevent it from deteriorating further. It had been earlier agreed upon by the Quartet that the U.N. should lead the international effort to alleviate the plight of the Palestinian people.

Ms. Bertini traveled to the Occupied Palestinian Territory from 12 to 19 August 2002 to assess the nature and scale of the humanitarian crisis facing the Palestinian people and to determine their humanitarian needs in light of recent developments. While there, she met with President Arafat and several other Palestinian officials and traveled throughout the West Bank and Gaza to observe first-hand the situation on the ground as well as running humanitarian projects in the area, including in several Palestinian refugee camps.

Ms. Bertini also met with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Sharon and Foreign Minister Peres. During her visit, Ms. Bertini met and consulted with representatives of various U.N. agencies, including UNSCO, UNRWA, UNDP and UNICEF, who briefed her on their work and specifically on projects and services in response to the current situation. Ms. Bertini also met with representatives of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent as well as with representatives of both local and international non-governmental organizations and observed various programmes and projects being sponsored by them in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. These meetings and consultations were arranged to aid Ms. Bertini in the task of reviewing assistance activities on the ground and identifying and coordinating other required measures.

In early September, Ms. Bertini presented a report to the Secretary-General, which concluded that, "a serious and mounting humanitarian crisis is occurring in the West Bank and Gaza". The report indicates that "the crisis is primarily evidenced by rising levels of malnutrition among children; high levels of poverty and unemployment; deteriorating health conditions; and an increasing exhaustion of the coping mechanisms that have allowed the Palestinian population to sustain itself since the situation started deteriorating in late September 2000".

Further, the report points out that this humanitarian crisis is inextricably linked to the ongoing conflict and in particular to the "security measures" adopted by Israel. These measures, include, in particular, the external and internal closures and curfews imposing severe and sustained mobility restrictions on the Palestinian people that have caused a loss of access to employment and income; the physical destruction of agricultural production facilities; and the obstruction of access to basic services and goods, such as health, education, food supply and water.

Among its recommendations, the report calls on the Israeli government to make every effort to ensure the movement of persons and goods in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to allow trading, farming and other forms of economic activity. Israel is also called upon to ensure access to all people in need of medical services and to ensure the free flow of all aid workers and supplies and services, including medical. Moreover, Israel should ensure that all children, students and teachers have access to schools and universities throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Lastly, the report calls on the Israeli government to urgently accelerate the release of Palestinian funds it is withholding to avoid exacerbating the humanitarian situation.

On 4 September 2002, the Secretary-General conveyed a letter to President Arafat forwarding Ms. Bertiniís report. In his letter, the Secretary-General indicated that he was also sending a copy of the report to Prime Minister Sharon, requesting him to take urgent measures to implement those recommendations made to Israel as necessary for alleviating the humanitarian crisis being faced by the Palestinian people.

We welcome the attention being given to the Palestinian humanitarian crisis by the international community and welcome the coordination and intensification of humanitarian assistance in this regard. Such efforts are extremely important for alleviating the suffering of the Palestinian people and aiding the resuscitation and rehabilitation of their devastated socioeconomic conditions. However, it is imperative to keep in mind that attempts to solve the humanitarian crisis should not be in isolation of attempts to solve the overall situation on the ground and to find the necessary political solution. A genuine change in the situation will occur only with the withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces and the rebuilding of Palestinian institutions and a serious resumption of the quest for a peaceful settlement.