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Humanitarian crisis in Gaza could get far worse, warns UN relief chief

Palestinian civil defence responders search the rubble of a building in the aftermath of an air strike in the Gaza Strip. (file)
Palestinian civil defence responders search the rubble of a building in the aftermath of an air strike in the Gaza Strip. (file)

Humanitarian crisis in Gaza could get far worse, warns UN relief chief

Peace and Security

Fierce hostilities continue across Gaza from the air, sea, and on the ground, the UN’s top humanitarian official told Member States on Friday, reporting that 41,000 houses have now been destroyed or severely damaged.

More than 1.5 million Gazans are displaced, 18 hospitals have shut down, and hundreds of thousands are living in fear and under continuing Israeli bombardment.

“Casualties continue to mount, with the dead reportedly exceeding 11,000 people – the majority of them children and women,” said Emergency Relief Coordinator and Humanitarian Affairs chief, Martin Griffiths.

“The actual total, however, is likely much higher as figures have not been updated for five days due to a collapse of communication networks in Gaza,” he added.

Mr. Griffiths further stated that across Gaza, but particularly in the north, food and water supplies are running perilously low, and the lack of fuel means communications and essential services like water desalination are progressively failing.

Free the hostages

Across the border, civilians in Israel endure deep pain of their own as they mourn the brutal, inhumane killing of 1,200 people, he added, stressing that the nearly 240 hostages - from babies to octogenarians - must be released immediately and without condition.

Mr. Griffiths reiterated the UN’s 10-point plan setting out the necessary requirements for an effective humanitarian response.

He called on UN Member States to help achieve these objectives.

Basic needs

“We are not asking for the moon. We are asking for the basic measures required to meet the essential needs of the civilian population and stem the course of this crisis,” he stressed.

In conclusion, Mr. Griffiths warned that for as dire as the situation is in Gaza, “it could get far worse.”

“If we do not take action now, this is a conflict that could spread its tendrils further into other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and beyond, and drag the region into a conflagration with even more catastrophic consequences,” he said.

Our work ‘mission impossible’: UNRWA official 

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Natalie Boucly, Acting Deputy Commissioner-General for the UN agency assisting Palestine refugees, UNRWA, said that no part of the Gaza Strip has been spared from the bombardment.

“Hospitals, mosques, churches, bakeries, and over 60 UNRWA buildings and schools have been hit across Gaza,” she said.

Most of the agency’s impacted facilities were in the middle areas and in the south, Ms. Boucly added, noting that this was where people were told to go for safety.

“They came to UNRWA buildings to be protected by the UN flag,” she said.

The UNRWA official stressed that the work of the agency has become “mission impossible”.

“We cannot fully protect people in UN premises, under the UN flag. We cannot reach people in need, including thousands still trapped in the north. We cannot provide sufficient assistance to those we can reach,” she said.

UNRWA’s fuel stocks are almost depleted, with massive implications for the civilian population, including its 13,000 staff.

Concluding her briefing, Ms. Boucly said that there is a collective responsibility on the part of the international community to ensure that the war ends now.

“We must remain steadfast in our determination, and I must quote from a famous text: ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, and reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person’,” she said, recalling the preambular text from the UN Charter

Families continue to find shelter in the Khan Younis camp in Gaza.
Families continue to find shelter in the Khan Younis camp in Gaza.

Crisis creating ‘deeper fractures’: UN rights chief 

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. (file)
UN Photo/Jean Marc Ferré
Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. (file)

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), voiced deep concern over the growing risk of spillover into the wider Middle East region, if the fighting continues.

He also emphasized that the crisis posed another global shock to the multilateral system “driving more polarization and creating deeper fractures, with terrible impact on the solutions that humanity so urgently needs.”

He recalled the resolution adopted by the General Assembly at its emergency special session on the crisis, which called for an immediate and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities, and the resolution adopted by the Security Council on Wednesday that called for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Türk underscored that these resolutions must not be ignored by Israel or Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

“There must be a ceasefire on humanitarian and human rights grounds, and an end to the fighting – not only to deliver urgently needed food and provide meaningful humanitarian assistance, but also to create space for a path out of this horror,” he stressed.

The UN rights chief also warned against rising hate speech and disinformation, which is fuelling dehumanization and thwarting the search for an enduring political solution.

“I am very concerned about the risk of further grave violations, even potentially amounting to atrocity crimes, in light of recent statements by some in leadership positions,” he said.

Stop attacks on healthcare, protect patients: WHO chief

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), informed Member States that it is becoming harder to evaluate the functioning of the health system in Gaza.

“What is clear is that the health needs of the people of Gaza are growing all the time, and the health system is near collapse,” he said.

Only 10 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are still functioning, with just 1,400 hospital beds, and many health workers have been displaced, forced to flee with their families.

“Here’s what that means: more and more casualties, and fewer and fewer beds, health workers, medicines and supplies,” said Mr. Tedros, adding that there are rising cases of  respiratory and skin infections, and acute watery diarrhoea due to lack of sanitation.

The head of WHO called for the immediate implementation of the Security Council resolution adopted on Wednesday, and for the parties to abide by it.

“We call for attacks on healthcare to stop, and for patients, health facilities, health infrastructure and health workers – as well as aid workers – to be protected,” he stressed.

“And we continue to call for an end to this conflict, to prevent further deaths of civilians and further damage to Gaza’s hospitals and health facilities,” he said.

Massive economic losses: UNDP head

Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. (file)
UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras
Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. (file)

Achim Steiner, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), told Member States that the almost six weeks of war have created a crisis of massive scale.

“On top of this humanitarian catastrophe […] a development crisis of massive proportions is already unfolding,” he said, warning that it could have generational implications.

He presented findings from UNDP’s latest assessment, which projected that if the fighting continues for a second full month, poverty could soar by 34 per cent, pushing half a million additional people into poverty.

“A third full month of war would see poverty increase by almost 45 per cent, expanding poverty to include over 39 per cent of the population for a total of more than 2.1 million people,” he said.

He also informed Member States of the impacts on the Palestinian economy, with the GDP declining by an estimated 4.3 per cent, sustaining a loss of over $857 million.

“With a third full month of war, the decrease of GDP would reach 12.2 per cent, with losses of over $2.5 billion,” he said.

The UNDP head said that even with the most conservative scenario, it is estimated that the war will set back development in the State of Palestine by 11 years, with Gaza suffering a setback of 17 years. Under higher impact scenarios, the impact in Gaza would rise to 19 years and in the State of Palestine as a whole by 16 years, he said.

“Every additional month that this war continues will come with huge and compounding cost to all Palestinians now and in the medium term,” he said, underscoring the need to step up efforts to stop the war, “as a humanitarian but also as a development imperative.” 

Catastrophic situation for women, girls: UNFPA

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Laila Baker, Regional Director for Arab States at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), drew attention to the catastrophic situation faced by women and girls in Gaza.

“At the moment, some 50,000 Palestinian pregnant women are in Gaza, every day approximately 180 women give birth there […] and are facing appalling conditions during those deliveries,” she said, with the situation most critical for the women facing obstetric complications.

Their lives and the lives of their unborn children are at risk, due to severely limited access to healthcare and emergency obstetric care, Ms. Baker added, noting that with supplies running low, women are forced to undergo caesarean sections without anaesthesia, and as military strikes land near hospitals.

“This situation is unconscionable. Hospitals, health workers and civilians must never be targets,” she stressed.  

Impacts on children ‘will last a lifetime’: UNICEF

Lana Al Wreikat, Director of Emergency Programmes ad interim at UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), highlighted the impact of the crisis on children.

“The magnitude of reported child deaths is devastating. Children’s living conditions are getting worse by the day, and their safety and wellbeing is under constant threat,” she said.

“The impact of this war on generation of children, many of whom have already experienced multiple wars, will last a lifetime,” she added.

The UNICEF official called for all crossing points into Gaza to be opened to allow continuous and safe passage of essential supplies and personnel.

Food stocks nearly depleted: WFP

Paul Skoczylas, Director of the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) New York Office, noted that food stocks across the Gaza Strip are nearly depleted, and prices of any food still available are skyrocketing.

“Gaza has never witnessed such a surge in pricing before,” he said, noting that no commercial goods are entering the Strip.

“Information gathered from the people we serve indicate that people are surviving on one meal a day – if they are lucky,” he added.