Energising the economy

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 20 Feb 2024

Economic challenges were the core of a major speech by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi this week.

Energising the economy


On 13 February the National Alliance for Civil Development Work (NACDW) launched its fourth convoy of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip which has come under incessant Israeli shelling for more than four months.

The convoy comprised 438 trucks loaded with essential supplies, including medicines, medical equipment, clothes, foodstuffs and blankets. It included over 5,000 tons of food items, 370 tons of medical equipment and supplies, 530 tons of clothes, blankets and tents, more than 755 tons of water, and 87 tons of detergents.

“Egypt plays an integral and vital role in supporting Gazans and the dispatch of humanitarian and relief aid,” Adnan Abu Hasna, the official spokesman for UNRWA, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Egyptian humanitarian and relief aid has not stopped since the outbreak of the war on 7 October, he added. However, aid entering the Strip accounts for only eight per cent of its population’s needs, showing a modest increase from the initial five per cent, Abu Hasna said.

According to Abu Hasna, 80 aid trucks enter the strip daily, pointing to the deteriorating humanitarian situation with hundreds of thousands of people facing hunger and a health sector grappling with worsening conditions, including skin and intestinal diseases. He also stressed the “significant shortage of potable water in Gaza”.

Several NACDW entities participated in the convoy, including the Food Bank, Orman Association, Resala Association, Life Makers Foundation, Sonaa Al-Kheir Foundation, Abul-Enein Foundation, Gamal Al-Garhi Foundation for Community Development, Al-Arabi Foundation for Community Development, Misr Al-Kheir Foundation, Al-Joud Foundation, Egyptian Cure Bank, Mersal Foundation, Bishopric of Public and Social Services, Egyptian Youth Council, and Relief and Emergency Foundation.

Mustafa Zamzam, board chairman of the Sonaa Al-Khair Foundation, told the Weekly his foundation participated in the convoy with two ambulances, 50 medical beds, four respirators and tons of blankets and clothes.

“Aid in the NACDW convoy was tailored to meet the harsh living conditions of Gazans, especially in winter, and address their immediate needs to save lives,”Zamzam said.

The aid provided by another organisation, Good Makers, covered food supplies, water and winter clothing. Major General Mamdouh Shaaban, director-general of the Orman Association, said it gave the convoy food supplies, water and winter clothes. “We also participated with tons of flour based on the requests of Gazans.”

The primary challenge in sending aid to Gaza is packaging, Shaaban stated. Specific requirements must be met for Israel to accept the passage of aid. These include placing aid on wooden pallets and covering them with stretch wrap.

Additionally, the time it takes for aid to enter and the associated costs are significant factors. Renting a truck for the journey from Cairo to the Rafah Crossing costs LE35,000, and LE2,500 for each additional day the truck spends away before returning, Shaaban noted.

Sherif Azouz, director of the Volunteer Department at the Misr Al-Kheir Foundation, told the Weekly another challenge is water bottles. “The irregular shapes of the bottles require extra effort in wrapping to obtain Israel’s approval,”Azouz said.

He said they collected aid from private companies, universities and schools. At one school, some students expressed their desire to accompany the aid trucks to Rafah. “When we told them this wasn’t possible, they wrote letters to Gaza’s children, requesting the letters be placed in the food cartons,”Azouz said, adding “We couldn’t meet their request, fearing Israel would reject the passage of the cartons, although the letters bore simple words like ‘we love you’ and ‘we want to know if you are OK.’”

Hundreds of volunteers accompany the NACDW convoys, Azouz added. “Their number could have been in the thousands if not for security constraints and the limited number of people permitted.

“With each convoy a different batch of volunteers makes the trip to the Rafah crossing to document the moment aid is delivered and capture the joyous reactions of the recipients. This is the moment our hearts flutter with joy at our success in bringing aid to our brothers in this ordeal,”Azouz noted.

Providing a firsthand account at the crossing, Ahmed Hamdi Shabana, who drives humanitarian and relief aid trucks to Gaza, told the Weekly“this was my sixth trip from Cairo to Rafah since the onset of the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip.

“I am happiest when I cross into Gaza and deliver aid to the families in need,” he added, noting, however, that“I commit myself to self-control during my trips, avoiding any provocation while crossing the occupied territories and adhering strictly to Egyptian security instructions.”

Responding to videos on social media showing attacks on humanitarian aid trucks, Abu Hasna of UNRWA attributed the behaviour to the “hunger of Gazans who are unable to wait for the trucks to arrive at distribution sites,” and to the absence of order after Israel targeted the civil authority in Gaza, which previously safeguarded the trucks. Unfortunately, this security has now been halted due to concerns about potential attacks, he explained.

Other videos on social media showed Gazans saying they buy humanitarian aid items in the Strip. “Sadly, this is true. Recipients of the aid UNRWA distributes resort to selling it in exchange for money to move from one place to another or to buy medicine. Sometimes, they need medicine more than a bag of flour or a can of tuna,” Abu Hasna said.

Rami Al-Nazer, executive director of the ERC, previously stressed the need for more aid despite the substantial amount already provided. He said that the lives of 2.5 million people have been brought to a halt, urging the international community to provide humanitarian support and relief.

For over four months, Egypt has played a pivotal role in supporting Gaza since the onset of the Israeli war that has left tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians dead and injured, the majority of them women and children.

Scores of Egyptian entities have been collaborating to provide extensive support to the people in Gaza. Besides NACDW, recognised as the voice of civil society in Egypt, part of this collective effort is the Decent Life Foundation, whose volunteers staged a sit-in in October at the Rafah crossing to advocate for the entry of aid.

The Long Live Egypt Fund has also sent specialised aid to Gaza, and the Ministry of Health and Egyptian hospitals have been receiving Gaza’s injured and providing care for premature babies.

The ERC, which coordinates the entry of international aid and Egyptian assistance into the Strip, has set up 250 tents to house displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis, providing them with their basic needs.

ERC volunteers dedicated their efforts to meeting the needs of displaced Gazans in the Strip’s Al-Mawasi camp, affiliated with the Egyptian and Palestinian Red Crescent. Concurrently, they hold recreational activities for children in the camp to lift their morale and ease the pain of what the war has wrought.

In addition, an ERC mental health team provides psychosocial support to injured Gazans and their companions during their journey to Arish airport, ensuring their readiness for medical treatment.

As part of ongoing humanitarian efforts in the Gaza Strip, the ERC has established a food supply centre that provides daily meals for the displaced.

In late January, Nevine Al-Qabbaj, minister of social solidarity and vice chairman of the board of the ERC Society, chaired a meeting that approved the proposed budget meant to enhance the ERC’s capabilities in responding to the Gaza crisis and boost the establishment of camps to aid Gazans. The meeting also approved a “humanitarian kitchen” in Sheikh Zuweid where daily meals are prepared and transported to the Gaza Strip.

The meeting also tackled collaboration between the ERC and its Palestinian counterpart in Gaza, stressing the need for a swift response and the sustained provision of humanitarian services in the long term.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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