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OCHA: Number of displaced tops 10,000 in Gaza

Dec. 15, 2013 8:46 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 18, 2013 10:52 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Approximately 10,000 people have been forced to flee their homes due to widespread flooding in the Gaza Strip, according to a report released Saturday evening by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The numbers of displaced dwarf earlier estimates, as they take into account both the thousands who have sought refuge in Gaza shelters as well as those who have sought refuge elsewhere.

Previous estimates released by the Gaza government had measured only those who had sought refuge in official shelters, who at their peak reached above 5,000 but were estimated at around 2,234 on Sunday.

In a comprehensive report on winter storm Alexa's effects on the Palestinian Territories, OCHA reported that as of Saturday at 9 p.m., 10,000 Gazans had been evacuated from their homes and had gone to either shelters or relatives' houses.

The areas most devastated by the storm are "North Gaza and Gaza City where over 1,500 houses suffered damage due to water entering houses, damaging furniture and electricity networks."

An infant died and 100 were injured in storm-related incidents throughout Gaza, the report said. Gaza government officials said on Sunday that two individuals had died, but did not mention any case involving an infant.

Schools throughout Palestine have been closed since Thursday, and according to OCHA 17 schools in Gaza have been converted into shelters, while five other schools have been rendered unusable due to flooding.

The report also discussed the effects of the storm, in conjunction with the Israeli occupation, on herding communities in the West Bank.

"Several herding communities had their structures demolished (by the Israeli authorities) one day before the storm hit, prompting the UN Humanitarian Coordinator to call again for a halt to demolitions due to their humanitarian impact," the report said.

Additionally, "approximately 30 families living in ten Bedouin communities in the northern Jordan Valley require emergency assistance."

Meanwhile, the report said farmers across Palestine have been hit with livestock and crop losses, further weighing on levels of food insecurity throughout the territories.

"In the West Bank, preliminary reports of damages to the livestock sector are emerging from Hebron, Bethlehem and Salfit. Bedouin and herding communities seem to be the most affected. Herders are expected to face increasing livestock fatalities and morbidity in the coming weeks."

In Gaza, over 10 percent of the coastal enclave's greenhouses and field crops were destroyed or damaged by winter storm Alexa, in addition to 50 animal pens, the report said.

"120,000 chicks and 200 heads of livestock died as a result of the weather."

The Gaza Strip is currently under a state of emergency due to severe weather conditions caused by a historic storm front moving south across the Levant.

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said on Saturday that large regions of the Gaza Strip were a "disaster area" and called on the international community to lift the Israeli blockade in order to allow recovery efforts to proceed.

"Any normal community would struggle to recover from this disaster. But a community that has been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this," he said in a statement sent to Ma'an.

Fuel shortages have caused daily life in the Gaza Strip to grind slowly to a halt since early November, cutting off access to basic necessities for Gaza residents.

Until Sunday, the Gaza Strip had been without a functioning power plant since the beginning of November, when the plant ran out of diesel fuel as a result of the tightening of a seven-year-long blockade imposed on the territory by Israel with Egyptian support.

The power station began operating Sunday after receiving a delivery of diesel that was purchased from Israel by the Palestinian Authority using funds donated by Qatar.

The plant was only reopened in 2012 after it was targeted by an Israeli airstrike in the 2006 assault on the Strip. The power plant generates around 30 percent of the Gaza Strip's electricity supply, while the rest comes from Israel and Egypt.

Until July of this year, the tunnels to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the territory amidst the otherwise crippling Israeli blockade. The blockade has been in place since 2006, and it has limited imports and exports and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.

In 2011 and 2012, however, the situation improved, as the tunnels to Egypt witnessed a brisk trade following the Egyptian Revolution.

Gaza Strip energy officials have blamed Egypt for destroying numerous tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt in recent months. They also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for charging taxes on fuel too high for Hamas authorities to afford.
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