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Palestinians face humanitarian disaster, warns US government group

By Justin Huggler in the West Bank
The Independent
06 August 2002

A report by a US government agency warned of a "humanitarian disaster" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip yesterday as the Israeli government announced stricter controls on Palestinians following the deaths of 13 Israelis in militant attacks in 24 hours.

One fifth of Palestinian children under five are suffering from malnutrition, according to the report released yesterday by the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) and the charity Care International.

The report found 13.2 per cent of Palestinians under five were suffering chronic, or medium- to long-term malnourishment, while 9.3 per cent were suffering acute malnourishment, caused very recently.

Some of the malnourished children are in a small Palestinian village near the city of Nablus. Ismehan Jaber's three-year-old son, Fadi, was sick. She thought he had a chest infection, but she could not afford a doctor.

Ms Jaber and her husband Kher live with their seven children in a half-finished building. The living room has bare concrete walls and a gaping hole where the window should be.

Fadi's 13-year-old brother, Abd al-Qadir, said: "For dinner, last night I had bread and tea. For breakfast, one egg, no vegetables or anything. And for lunch today I had just one tomato, that's all." Abd al-Qadir said he frequently suffers headaches and stomach pains.

Two years ago, before the start of the Israeli blockades, the family ate well.

The house is half-finished because since the intifida began Mr Jaber and others like him have not been allowed to work in Israel. Desperate to make some money to feed his children as a casual construction worker, Mr Jaber began sneaking across secretly but was caught and sent to prison for three months.

The Israeli government yesterday ordered a total ban on Palestinians travelling in the north West Bank, except for medical emergencies. It also sealed off the town of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

The USAid report published yesterday found food shortages caused by the blockades were a major cause of malnutrition. The Israeli authorities argue they are the only way to stop militant attacks.