Thursday, January 08, 2009

Mercy Corps' Delayed Food Shipment Due to Arrive in Gaza Strip

Mercy Corps' Delayed Food Shipment Due to Arrive in Gaza Strip
January 6, 2009

Portland, OR - After two days of delay, the global relief and development agency Mercy Corps plans to send a shipment of food for 1,800 people into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday morning local time. The four-metric-ton shipment was originally scheduled to enter Gaza on Monday, but was delayed because of the introduction of Israeli ground troops and subsequent border restrictions.

Mercy Corps has issued an urgent call for immediate humanitarian access to Gaza. The agency is increasingly concerned about the prospects for delivering aid within the territory, which been divided by recent military actions. Before the current conflict, Mercy Corps' programs were already inhibited because of the frequent closures of the Gazan borders, which led to fuel rationing and electricity and water shortages.

But the agency insists that access has become much more difficult in recent days. "Only a trickle of aid is getting in," explains David Holdridge, Mercy Corps Regional Program Director for the Middle East. "Many families in Gaza have been living for more than a week without reliable electricity, heat, food or water. This initial shipment will help, but it's only a fraction of what's needed."

The shipment contains four metric tons of rice, canned tuna, dates and soybean oil, and will enter Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing in southern Israel. The shipment has been approved by Israeli authorities, and is being coordinated with the assistance of the World Food Programme and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Mercy Corps' team expects to distribute the food in the coming days.

In lieu of shipping goods into Gaza, Mercy Corps has resorted to collecting, buying and distributing items within the territory. In recent days, the agency has distributed blankets to hundreds of people in Khan Younis and patients at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

Though communication with Mercy Corps team members inside Gaza has been difficult and sporadic, the agency has thus far heard that all of the team is safe. Speaking today from the southern city of Rafah, Mercy Corps Administrative and Finance Manager Wafa Ulliyan described the situation for civilians as "terrible and deteriorating." Ulliyan, who fled Gaza City shortly after air strikes started in late December, is living with her husband, seven-month-old daughter, two sisters and ten other family members.

"I cannot describe how terrible it is. No one feels safe," says Ulliyan. "There is continuous shelling, no electricity for two days, and every night the children are in a panic. But the situation is even worse in other areas of Gaza." Ulliyan has been unable to contact her friends and neighbors in Gaza City.

Mercy Corps Gaza Crisis Fund
Dept NR
PO Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208