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Chief of key UN agency in Gaza warns ‘entire generation’ could be lost

UNWRA staff are providing children with support to help them through the trauma of war.
UNWRA staff are providing children with support to help them through the trauma of war.

Chief of key UN agency in Gaza warns ‘entire generation’ could be lost

Peace and Security

The head of the main UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, issued a stark warning on Monday that it “will crumble” unless funding is found quickly, with an “entire generation” of children at risk of being condemned to “poverty…hatred, resentment and future conflict”. 

In a plea for political and financial support from Member States, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini underscored that the agency was “staggering under the weight of relentless attacks in Gaza”, after nearly nine months of intense Israeli bombardment and ground operations.

“The pressures on the agency today are greater than ever before,” he insisted.

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In addition to the 193 UNRWA personnel killed since Hamas-led terror attacks and hostage-taking sparked the war, Mr. Lazzarini detailed the sheer scale of the destruction to UN premises.

More than 180 installations have been damaged or destroyed since 7 October and “at least 500 people” have been killed seeking protection under the UN flag, he explained. 

“Our premises have been used for military purposes by Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups,” the UNRWA chief told a meeting of the Advisory Commission in Geneva. “Our convoys have come under attack despite coordinated movement with Israeli authorities in the West Bank…operational space is shrinking.”

Highlighting how Gaza is now “a living hell” for more than two million people there, the senior humanitarian official noted that children continue to die of malnutrition and dehydration, “while food and clean water wait in trucks” outside the enclave.

And amid increasing reports of a collapse in law and order, Mr. Lazzarini pointed to rampant looting and smuggling now happening, delaying the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid.

Among Gaza’s most vulnerable, children are among the worst-affected by the ongoing war, he insisted, with more than 625,000 “deeply traumatized” youngsters  “living in the rubble” and without access to education.

“Some 300,000 of them were enrolled in nearly 290 UNRWA schools before the war but those who are now out of school “are at risk of violence and exploitation, child labour, early marriage, and recruitment by armed groups”, the UNRWA chief insisted.

“Without decisive intervention to resume education, we will condemn an entire generation to poverty and sow the seeds of hatred, resentment, and future conflict.”

West Bank chaos

While Gazans repeatedly displaced by the war “are clinging to life”, the UNRWA chief issued an equally bleak assessment of the situation in the occupied West Bank, where some 500 Palestinians have been killed since October.

“Daily attacks by Israeli settlers, military incursions, and the destruction of homes and critical infrastructure are part of a well-oiled system of segregation and oppression,” the Commissioner-General said.

Lebanon alert

Intensifying clashes on the Israel-Lebanon border also threaten a “full-blown war”, Mr. Lazzarini continued, as he pointed to millions of “anxious and afraid” Palestine refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan watching events in Gaza and the West Bank unfold.

“Most have been living in camps for generations, often with limited rights and in grinding poverty, waiting for a political solution that will bring an end to their plight. Today, they are witnessing the greatest Palestinian tragedy since the Nakba,” he said, in reference to the 1948 events that led to the uprooting of some 750,000 Palestinians from their homes.

“As they have done for 75 years, they are looking to UNRWA for protection and the fulfillment of basic human rights.”

In an appeal for support to scale up UNRWA’s assistance to Palestine refugees, Mr. Lazzarini raised the possibility of the agency not being operational “beyond August”.

This depended on UNRWA receiving both planned financial donations and new contributions, he explained, adding that $1.2 billion was needed to cover critical humanitarian needs until the end of the year. To date, the appeal is only 18 per cent funded.

UN missions hampered

The UN aid coordination office OCHA warned on Monday that access constraints and security concerns continue to hinder efforts to scale up food and nutrition assistance in Gaza, affecting hundreds of thousands in need. 

The inability of humanitarian agencies to consistently and safely transport aid from the Kerem Shalom crossing, combined with the continued closure of the Rafah crossing due to the Israeli offensive, has compounded the challenges. 

As of Sunday, fewer than half of the 86 coordinated missions to northern Gaza planned for this month were facilitated by Israeli authorities.

One mission returning to southern Gaza after delivering fuel and medical supplies to Gaza city in the north was delayed for more than 13 hours at an Israeli military checkpoint. OCHA says planned humanitarian missions requiring coordination to areas in southern Gaza also continue to face impediments and access denials.