UMCOR Responds to Gaza Relief Needs
By Linda Bloom*
January 27, 2009—With a tentative cease-fire holding between Israel and Hamas, humanitarian organizations are stepping up their assistance to Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. Children at the Jabalya Internally Displaced Persons camp in Gaza eat food provided by ACT member DanChurchAid. A UMNS Web-only photo by DanChurchAid, ACT International.
Action by Churches Together, representing more than 130 church-based relief agencies, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Church World Service, has issued an appeal for $4 million to provide immediate relief there.
UMCOR has requested that its $50,000 grant to ACT be implemented through the Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches. Melissa Crutchfield, who oversees international disaster response for UMCOR, said Jan. 26 that the organization is a “long-term trusted partner” of The United Methodist Church. Another $50,000 grant has been made to Muslim Aid, also an UMCOR partner.
ACT estimates that 50,000 people are homeless and 400,000 are without running water. The coalition has targeted some 15,000 displaced people to receive food distribution and already has gathered nutritional biscuits, water, milk, milk powder and medicine.
The United Nations reported Jan. 26 that it had 10 distribution centers open and was feeding 25,000 people per day. The U.N. World Food Program also has distributed 95 tons of food aid to nearly 6,000 people in Gaza City and North Gaza. Critical needs include spare parts and fuel for the power plant, hospitals and water and sewage treatment facilities, and construction materials for rebuilding.
Unrestricted access for humanitarian groups is critical as well. The U.N. press release said such groups “have faced unprecedented denial of access to Gaza” by Israel since Nov. 5 and that access remains unreliable. Liv Steimoeggen, the ACT representative in Jerusalem, has called for open borders for humanitarian relief, along with safe and free distribution.
According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, about 280 children were among the 1,285 Palestinians killed in the 22-day war between Israel and Hamas, the Associated Press reported. Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, also were killed during the fighting.
Improving Food Security
Working with UMCOR and other ACT partners, the Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees plans to improve food security through cash grants, cash for work or food to families; help cover health care fees and medical needs for the poorest families; tend to trauma and stress faced by families coming to the clinics; rehabilitate health facilities; and improve the livelihood of farming families. Special attention will be given throughout to women and children.
A Gaza City clinic run by the department was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, and its staff members are temporarily working out of two other clinics in Rafah and Daraj, according to David Wildman, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
Last fall, the Board of Global Ministries provided $10,000 grants to the Gaza Community Mental Health Program and Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children. Buildings housing both programs were damaged during the recent conflict, Wildman reported.
Muslim Aid has provided cooked food to about 1,200 displaced people taking shelter at two U.N.-designated schools in Gaza City. Medicine was delivered to the trauma center at Al Shifa Hospital. The humanitarian agency also is planning to assist with water purification in southern Gaza near Rafah and the border with Egypt, according to Crutchfield.
Although there has been suffering on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, civilians in Gaza are particularly vulnerable because they cannot leave the area and may have limited access to food, water and basic medical care. In addition to working with longstanding humanitarian partners, UMCOR said it receives frequent reports about existing conditions from three United Methodist missionaries based in the region.
Concern About Restrictions
In early February, Wildman will attend a meeting in Bethlehem of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum, which was launched by the World Council of Churches in 2007. Forum participants will meet with Palestinian Christians to better coordinate ongoing ecumenical efforts in light of the current crisis, he explained.
“One of the big issues: If there is a full cease-fire, there should be no restrictions on humanitarian assistance to Gaza,” Wildman said. Restrictions on access will result in more suffering by civilians, he explained.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.