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New International Red Cross Program Offers Relief for Palestinian Families - 2002-08-16

The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, has launched a relief program in the Palestinian territories. The program is targeting 20,000 families, or about 120,000 people, in nine cities and towns.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says about 20 percent of Palestinian city dwellers will benefit from this assistance program. It says it decided to start this operation because thousands of vulnerable people no longer are able to meet their basic needs.

The ICRC says nearly two years of violence, curfews and closures have seriously undermined the economy. It says 70 percent of the Palestinian population now lives below the poverty line.

Patrick Vial is Deputy Head of Red Cross Operations for the Middle East and North Africa. He says the agency does not plan to hand out goods to the Palestinians. Instead, he says vouchers will be given to the 20,000 families every month.

"They will be able to go to selected traders: traders selected by ICRC and they will be exchanging their voucher for goods, food and non-food items in these particular shops," Mr. Vial explained. "The interest of this particular program is that it provides a certain margin of choice in the selection of the goods they want to exchange with the voucher... It somehow preserves an amount of dignity for those people who can choose whatever they need most in daily life."

Each of the families will receive a monthly voucher worth $90 (US). Mr. Vial says this will provide for half of a family's basic monthly requirements.

Besides helping the poorest people, he says, the voucher system also will stimulate local businesses.

He explains that among the approved list of goods are items which must be procured from the local rural communities. The Red Cross Official says the program will last only until the end of the year.

"The reason is that the ICRC is not willing to engage in a process whereby the Palestinian population will become entirely dependent upon humanitarian aid," he said. "The idea is not to render those people totally dependent. The Palestinian population has the means, and it was the case before the situation today, to face its own needs, without such external aid. "

Mr. Vial says that, under international law, the Israeli government has the obligation to ensure adequate supplies of food, medicines and other essential items for the people under its occupation. He says neither the ICRC's relief operation, nor Israel's legitimate security concerns, relieve the Israelis from their duty to provide for the daily needs of the Palestinians.