The December breakdown of the cease-fire between Hamas and Israel has reportedly left nearly 1,100 people dead and many others injured. In response to the crisis, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been working hard to get humanitarian goods to those in need.
"The first purchase we made was medical equipment, probably about $80,000 worth," said Howard Sumka, USAID Mission Director to the West Bank and Gaza. "Of that amount, about $15,000 was, within a day or so, delivered to the Patient's Friends Benevolent Society, one of the organizations we work with in both the West Bank and Gaza," he said.
Other priority items included 120,000 kilograms of plastic sheeting for destroyed windows and doors.
USAID has awarded $1.75 million in 6 grant agreements. "On top of that," said Mr. Sumka, "using as our supply mechanism USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, we are procuring a total of 40,000 blankets ... and will continue to distribute as the supply lines are open." The USAID Mission Director said mattresses have also been identified as a high priority item for the displaced people of Gaza.
Unfortunately, supply lines into Gaza have been slow. "We are relying exclusively on UNRWA, [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees], to be our shipping vehicle from east Jerusalem, from where we're purchasing things, to the crossings into Gaza and into the distribution points in Gaza," said Mr. Sumka. "As you know, the number of trucks that have been able to get across the Kerem Shalom crossing has been not as high as we would have liked," he said.
Since hostilities began, USAID has delivered about 1.3 metric tons of food, valued at $1.8 million. "Those foods are already in Gaza, much of it has been distributed," said Mr. Sumka.
The U.S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration is making an $85 million contribution towards the 2009 appeal from UNRWA, of which $25 million will go directly to the West Bank and Gaza. $5 million of that amount was directed to the emergency appeal from UNRWA in response to the crisis.
The U.S. remains committed to helping those caught up in the conflict.