Child malnutrition has doubled in Gaza

 Cases of malnutrition among Palestinian children under five years of age has more than doubled in the past year because of the Israeli security blockade Christian Aid has revealed. A Palestinian medical charity funded by Christian Aid says this is a direct result of the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip imposed by the Israeli government. According to the World Bank, some 100,000 Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank worked in neighbouring Israel. Now, because of the closure, they are banned from crossing into Israel and most are out of work. The negative impact of this on the Gazan and West Bank economy has meant an additional loss of 76,000 jobs. The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), which runs mother and child clinics in both the West Bank and Gaza City, says the health of all Palestinians has deteriorated radically since the Israeli clamp-down on the Occupied Territories which began in September 2000. As the Israeli government embarks on further military strikes on the West Bank and Gaza, Christian Aid warns the situation for Palestinians will get worse. Healthy provision in Gaza is sketchy at best and many cannot afford what health care is available anyway because of unemployment. The majority of Gazans therefore rely on charities to provide basic medical services. MECC runs two small clinics for women and children in Gaza City. One clinic, Darraj, can cope with 40 cases a day, yet the amount of people queuing before the clinic opens each morning well exceeds that number. These two clinics alone have 590 cases of child malnutrition on their books. They use the common definition of malnutrition of weight to height. According to MECC director Costa Dabbagh the clinics had few cases of malnourishment before the closures. Furthermore, cases of anaemia, parasite infections, hypertension, diabetes and other maladies have all increased. Mr Dabbagh said: 'We are treating more underweight and malnourished children in our clinics and this is a problem of the economy. Gaza suffers from 65 per cent unemployment. Food is available here - we are not short of anything. But it is hard to buy bread, vegetables cereals and meat when you don't have a job.' It is also difficult for staff to get to and from work because of the air strikes and internal closures within Gaza, which are often set up by Israeli troops without warning. MECC also runs training centres for teenage boys and girls. In one class of 95 boys training in carpentry, only six had fathers in employment. Another Palestinian medical charity, Ard El Insan Palestine, said that in 2000 it treated 2,528 children under the age of five for malnutrition. In 2001 this rose to 5,702 - an increase of 125 per cent. In a recent report, the World Bank said: 'The Palestinian Authority is effectively bankrupt since tax revenues have dwindled to a quarter of previous levels.' The report adds that it is only foreign aid donations which are keeping the economy afloat. However, it continues: ' economic collapse remains a real prospect If the confrontation persists at recent levels and the closure is tightened further donor and community efforts will not suffice. Poverty is deepening, particularly in isolated communities. Serious health and environmental problems are emerging and helplessness, deprivation and hatred are increasing.' Christian Aid spokesman, Dominic Nutt, who has just returned from an assessment mission to Gaza, said: 'The levels of poverty in Gaza are shocking. I have met families living in fear of starvation who spend their days dodging Israeli bullets and waiting for neighbours to donate meagre food rations. 'The tension is palpable. Israeli F16s fly overhead day and night. Parents fear for the lives of their children and the children are terrified. The missiles strike with impunity, damaging the already fragile infrastructure and leaving psychological scars. 'The community is becoming more angry, more radicalised. Israeli strikes and closures are not the solution - and nor are Palestinian suicide bombings. It is time for both sides to start talking.'

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