Briefing delivered by the Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator to the General Assembly On the Situation in the Gaza Strip, 6 August 2014
On behalf of the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, I thank you Mr. President for this opportunity to brief the General Assembly on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza.
As with previous speakers, we welcome the ceasefire that began yesterday which has brought a pause to the violence and some much needed respite to the people of Gaza who have suffered a month of intense conflict with little room to flee or seek shelter. It is critical that this ceasefire holds and, as the Secretary-General has so passionately and powerfully underscored, a sustainable solution be found that addresses the root causes of the conflict.
Over 1,860 Palestinians have been killed. Of those identified, at least 1,370 were civilians, including more than 420 children and 221 women. At least 122 Palestinian families have had three or more family members killed, accounting for half of the civilian fatalities. The Israelis have faced indiscriminate rocket fire. 64 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
Over half a million people, or over one quarter of the population of Gaza were displaced by the conflict. They fled for their lives with nothing. An estimated 65,000 people have lost everything. Their homes reduced to rubble.
People sought shelter at United Nations installations, public buildings, and open spaces when their homes and neighbourhoods came under fire. UNRWA alone hosted some 273,000 displaced people in 90 schools at the peak of the conflict. 187,000 people are still hosted in UNRWA schools.
144 schools and other facilities – including UN buildings - have been hit and damaged. We also stand by the Secretary-General and the Commissioner-General of UNRWA in solidarity to the 11 UNRWA staff who have been killed.
The public health system is on the verge of collapse. One third of hospitals, 14 primary health care clinics, and 29 Palestinian Red Crescent and Ministry of Health ambulances have been damaged in fighting. More than 40 per cent of medical staff were unable to reach their places of work due to widespread violence. Half of all public primary health care clinics were closed. Basic emergency care is severely compromised at a time when treatment, including for the more than 9,500 injured, is urgently required.
Hospitals and clinics have been overwhelmed by the numbers of casualties and the severity of their wounds. Doctors have been working in hallways and parking lots. There was already a critical shortage of medicines and disposables in the Gaza Strip. This past month medical teams have struggled to save lives in difficult and dangerous circumstances.
The damage to the water and sanitation system has been immense. More than one million people do not have access to water. Gaza’s only power plant was damaged by shelling last week and feeder lines damaged as well, plunging much of the Strip into darkness. But the long term consequences are far greater. Hospitals do not have electricity to adequately power critical machinery. Food production is reduced. Water and sewage cannot be pumped. Some people have been without water for nearly two weeks. Sewage is backing up and risks flooding low lying areas and contaminating the water system. This makes the outbreak of communicable and water-borne disease a very serious risk.
The prevalence of unexploded ordinance makes comprehensive assessments very difficult, but preliminary reports reveal a situation of utter devastation, particularly in areas that Israel declared a no-go zone. Large parts of neighbourhoods are damaged or destroyed. UN staff on the ground report that the level of destruction to civilian infrastructure, private homes and land is much greater than in previous conflicts.
Gazans remain deeply concerned that the ceasefire will not hold. Many people have returned home but only to assess the damage, salvage what they can and then returned to their shelters. Some shops in the centre of Gaza are open and people are able to restock up.
Thousands of people want to or will have to remain in shelters, despite the overcrowding, shortage of food and inadequate hygiene facilities. Buildings designed to educate 500 children are sheltering over 3,000 people.
Throughout the conflict, humanitarian workers have tirelessly supported people with basic assistance. In addition to the valiant efforts of UNRWA colleagues, WFP provided food to the displaced and people in hospitals. WHO facilitated the transfer of urgently needed medical supplies to hospitals and clinics. UNICEF is supporting the repair of the water and sanitation system. Our NGO partners played a critical role in delivering much needed aid.
The ceasefire has enabled this support to be stepped up. We can now reach people who were trapped by fighting. But the needs remain enormous. The population of Gaza – over half of them children – were already destitute before the outbreak of the latest conflict. Seven years of a blockade had driven unemployment to 43 per cent, food insecurity to around 57 per cent of the population, and left approximately 80 per cent of people dependent on external assistance.
Significant and sustained international commitment is required to repair damaged infrastructure and restore livelihoods. Water, sanitation and electricity infrastructure and networks must be urgently repaired. To do this we need equipment and tools. We need more medicines to be sent to Gaza. And there is an urgent need to evacuate at least 50 patients a day to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
For those who can return to their homes, we must provide the basic supplies they need. We need to find alternative venues for shelters so that the upcoming school year – due to begin in just three weeks – is not disrupted. Funding is also urgently required. The UN and partners have appealed for $367 million to address immediate needs. I strongly encourage Member States to respond quickly and generously to the appeal. People need help now.
The world watched with horror the impact of this conflict on children, on civilians. Restoring trust and dealing with the trauma of war could take generations. We witnessed blatant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
The negotiations in Cairo are critical. Gazans want peace, security and stability. Israelis want the same. We cannot allow a return to a state of active conflict where there is an absence of protection for civilians.
No Gazan has escaped this conflict unscathed. The people of Gaza are frustrated that the international community was unable to protect them during the fighting and are looking to us yet again for help. We cannot fail them.
All people deserve to live in peace, security and in dignity. Gazans have been deprived of this for too long. The blockade must be lifted. The cycle of violent conflict must end for good, so that Gazans and Israelis can live free from fear of and reality of war and conflict.
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