The United Nations today launched an appeal for $613 million to help people affected by Israel’s three-week military offensive in the Gaza Strip, which killed some 1,300 Palestinians, injured more than 5,300, 34 per cent of them children, and caused widespread damage and destruction.
The appeal will cover requirements of the UN and other aid agencies for the next six to nine months and cover critical areas such as food, water, sanitation, health care and shelter, as well as support basic services, such as education.
The funds will also help to remove the debris of war, including unexploded ordnance, finance emergency repairs for basic infrastructure, and provide psychological help for the victims. An appeal for longer-term needs will be launched later.
“With the help of this $613 million appeal, the United Nations and other aid agencies can jump into action to help the 1.4 million civilians in the Gaza Strip to recover,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a news conference on the situation in Gaza, speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Mr. Ban, who saw the devastation wrought by Israel’s 22-day offensive against Hamas militants first-hand when he visited the Strip earlier this month, stressed that without urgent action, Gaza could face a greater humanitarian calamity.
“People have lost their families. They have lost their homes, belongings and livelihoods. Schools, clinics, factories and businesses have been destroyed. Many of Gaza’s inhabitants still lack clean water and electricity. Too many are living in the midst of raw sewage and the threats to their health that brings.
“By answering the call of this appeal, in the amount of $613 million, the world can help overcome at least some measure of their hardship,” the Secretary-General stated.
Mr. Ban was joined by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, who recently returned from a needs assessment mission to Gaza.
Mr. Holmes has repeatedly called on Israel to immediately open up crossing points into Gaza for full access for relief aid and reconstruction supplies.
UN agencies are now helping to feed some 1.3 million of Gaza’s 1.42 million residents, with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) taking care of the 900,000 refugees there and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) tending to the others.
“From a logistic point of view... we are doing our best,” WFP Regional Director Daly Belgasmi told a news briefing in New York, stressing the need for a full opening of the crossing points, which Israel again briefly closed on Tuesday following a border bomb attack.
“The crossing points are still an issue because it’s open today, it’s closed tomorrow, it’s open in the morning, it’s closed in the afternoon, and that has been a real challenge,” he said. “The food supply chain has collapsed. Many basic food items are no longer available in the market, [there are] increases in the price of food commodities such as cooking gas and fuel, bakeries have only recently started.”
WFP’s portion of the appeal is $82.3 million which Mr. Belgasmi described as “really the minimum to be able to provide some assistance to the people in need.” He said his agency had enough stocks in Gaza for the next three weeks, and was providing school meals of milk, date bars and bread to 50,000 children to encourage attendance and improve their nutrition.
“The challenge is to get jobs. When you have today unemployment of 70 per cent, people should work on construction… We need to get them items for construction, we need to get the hospitals working, we need to get the schools coming back to a normal educational life,” he added.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that as many as half of the 5,000 men, women and children injured over the past three weeks may suffer life-long impairment because rehabilitation workers were unable to respond immediately.
Meanwhile, the water situation has improved, with 70 per cent of the system functioning in some areas, although this does not mean that everyone is getting water, and the sewage network in some parts remains damaged, OCHA reported.
For its part, UNRWA recently provided more than 150,000 litres of fuel to municipalities so that they can cover all their solid waste management needs until mid-March and the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is working to ensure that main roads are clear of unexploded ordnance so that essential goods can be transported. It has also worked with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to ensure the safety of schools.