The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains precarious one year after Israeli military air strikes caused widespread devastation. Patrick Maigua spoke on the line to Jerusalem to Chris Gunness, spokesman at the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, known as UNRWA.
GUNNESS: Life for Palestinians has been unremittingly awful a year after so-called Operation Cast Lead. Gaza has been bombed back not to the Stone Age but to the mud age because the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has been reduced to building houses out of mud. The Israeli blockade has meant that almost no reconstruction materials have been allowed to move into Gaza even though 60,000 homes were either damaged or completely destroyed. So we in UNRWA have been saying, "let's lift this senseless blockage".
MAIGUA: If rebuilding the damaged infrastructure has not been possible, what about providing basic relief supplies such as food, water to drink, and energy?
GUNNESS: We have continued with our food distributions, we have continued with our primary health services, but that's not enough because UNRWA doesn't just do emergency work. We actually do human development work. We educate 208,000 children in Gaza; we hope that giving them some future which is based on an education, which is based on hope, might produce a sense of moderation in an area which because of the blockade, is becoming increasingly radicalized. So we say at UNRWA, allow the blockade to be lifted so that UNRWA can do its development workbecause that is the key, the unique selling point of UNRWA. We are able to produce stability, prosperity and dignity, which are the very foundations upon which peace will one day be built.
MAIGUA: For those who are affected by the Operation Cast Lead, the psychological trauma and the after effects must continue to be felt?
GUNNESS: They are immense, and psychological trauma is not something you can easily point a television camera at, and it's therefore one of the stories that often gets overlooked. But we at UNRWA have had to increase the amount of psycho-social counselors we have in our schools because children are simply in a state of post-traumatic stress. Imagine being under 22 days of one of the most ferocious air attacks in the annals of contemporary warfare, but having a fence around you so that you cannot flee. That has produced a sense of communal terror which I think is probably unparalleled, and that is why we say that the blockade is adding to the psychological pressures and, of course these psychological pressures, if peace is to take hold, must be eased.
MAIGUA: What future do you see for Palestinians in 2010?
GUNNESS: We are the United Nations and we always hope that diplomacy will prevail, and it will prevail above the rationale of warfare. But if you look at what is going on in Gaza, and if you look at the continued blockade and the fact that that blockade is radicalizing a population there, then one has to have one's doubts.
NARR: Chris Gunness, spokesman at UNRWA: The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees
Producer: Patrick Maigua