|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DIRECT DAMAGE FROM ISRAELI INVASION ESTIMATED AT $1.9 BILLION, CAIRO MEETING
TOLD AS SECOND PLENARY CONSIDERS SITUATION IN GAZA STRIP
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
CAIRO, 10 March -- Participants of the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People this afternoon assessed the damage resulting from the Israeli war on Gaza, which, according to estimates, approached $1.9 billion.
Presenting that figure, the President of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, Mohammad Shtayyeh, also pointed out that the cost in human terms could not be measured. Particularly disturbing was the loss of civilian life and the scale of destruction -- over 1,300 Palestinians had been killed, some 40 per cent of them women and children. Living conditions in the Gaza Strip were inhuman by any measure. Thousands were now homeless and much of the population remained without electricity, heat or running water.
“We need to be able to get things into Gaza before we can even dream of repairing the damage that has been done,” said Rosemary Willey-Al'Sanah, Field Coordination Unit Manager of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for the Occupied Palestinian Territories in Jerusalem. With limited supply of basic goods and high prices, to buy a bag of cement was a major enterprise in Gaza right now. The impact of the blockade was that 98 per cent of businesses in Gaza were now closed and most jobs lost. Deterioration of water supply and water services could be attributed to the lack of spare parts.
During the Gaza war, some 1.4 million people had been vulnerable and unprotected, “to the extent that people were killed at [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)] shelters”, she continued. Residential buildings, United Nations property, UNRWA schools, OCHA offices and WFP warehouses were among the targets. In short, there was “a lot to do in Gaza”, including rebuilding walls and getting rid of unexploded ordinance, providing health services and psychological care.
Speaking on the basis of their personal experiences, speakers identified the safety and well-being of citizens, difficulties in removing the rubble, the lack of services and shelter, aid dependence and the loss of farm lands to Israel’s buffer zone and assistance to the farmers among the main challenges in Gaza. Also stressed in the discussion was the need to coordinate the assessment efforts.
Presentations were also made by Hussam O. Tuqan, Coordinator of medical care provided to Palestinians injured in Gaza and hospitalized in Egypt; Gerard Peytringnet of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Cairo; Christine van Nieuwenhuyse, Head of the World Food Programme (WFP) Office in Jerusalem; and Ahmed Sourani, Director of Projects and External Relations, Agricultural Development Association, Gaza.
The first of two plenary sessions tomorrow, 11 March, will take place at 10 a.m. on the subject of “Looking ahead: Identifying the most Urgent Humanitarian, Reconstruction and Development Needs”.
Introducing the theme of the plenary – “Current Situation in the Gaza Strip” -- its Chair, ZAHIR TANIN ( Afghanistan), said that the discussion would focus on the assessment of damage after the Israeli invasion, emergency humanitarian needs, longer-term requirements and coordination of efforts.
MOHAMMAD SHTAYYEH, President, Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, Ramallah, said that, in his opinion, Israel was not ready for an independent Palestinian State. While for the first time there was an international consensus on the two-State solution, Israel was engaged in “confidence-destruction measures instead of confidence-construction ones”, which included fragmentation of Palestinian lands and closure of Gaza.
According to some estimates, the latest conflict had taken the economy of Gaza 50 years back, he continued. The direct damage to all aspects of the infrastructure was estimated at some $1.9 billion, but the human costs could not be assessed. Particularly disturbing was the loss of civilian life and the scale of destruction. With thousands homeless and much of the population lacking electricity, heat or running water, the first objective should be the provision of shelters and ensuring adequate food supplies. Then, attention could be turned to the removal of rubble, reconstruction of buildings and medical facilities and reactivation of basic services. In order to go into the reconstruction phase, it was important to meet a number of important prerequisites, including the lifting of the Israeli siege.
He added that all speakers in Sharm el-Sheikh had also stressed the importance of Palestinian reconciliation, which was, indeed, needed for the Palestinians to go to the international community “with a single address charged with the management of reconstruction”. Duplication of services and squandering of resources must be avoided at all costs. Also needed was a fast flow of funds. At the time of the Seminar, Palestinian factions were gathering to discuss reconciliation, and he hoped they would be able to heal the split. The reconstruction of Gaza was a political issue, and first of all it was necessary to rebuild the Palestinian “internal house”. The most important thing was to have one goal and unify the tools to achieve that goal. The common Palestinian goal was to end the Israeli occupation. It was necessary to assure the international community that the infrastructure it was helping to build would not be destroyed again. It was also important to harmonize the reconstruction of Gaza with the Gaza Regional Plan, which addressed development issues in the Strip until the year 2015.
ROSEMARY WILLEY-AL'SANAH, Field Coordination Unit Manager, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs -- Occupied Palestinian Territories, Jerusalem, said that the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, should be seen as a whole. It was important to avoid the trap of focusing on one particular area, at the cost of others. Now, once again, Gaza had become the centre of attention, but that should not detract the international community from “keeping a wary eye” on other issues, including the construction of settlements and the separation wall, confiscation of land and the drought in the West Bank.
Turning to the humanitarian response in Gaza, she said that access to the area was very difficult. With about 90 per cent of Gaza's population dependent on aid, the situation represented a humanitarian crisis. With limited supply of basic goods and high prices, to buy a bag of cement was a major enterprise right now. Among other things, the crisis was also affecting the injured and the ill, without the medicines coming in and no access to hospitals across the border. The impact of the blockade was that 98 per cent of businesses in Gaza were now closed and most jobs lost. Deterioration of water supply and water services could be attributed to the lack of spare parts.
During the Gaza war, some 1.4 million people had been vulnerable and unprotected, “to the extent that people were killed at UNRWA shelters”, she continued. As a result of the conflict, some 1,400 people had been killed and the infrastructure shuttered. Residential buildings, United Nations property, UNRWA schools, OCHA offices and WFP warehouses were among the targets. In short, there was “a lot to do in Gaza”, including rebuilding walls and getting rid of unexploded ordinance, providing health services and psychological care. “We need to be able to get things into Gaza before we can even dream of repairing the damage that has been done,” she said. To be able to spend the $630 million that was considered to be the minimum needed to address Gaza's needs, it was necessary to have reliably open crossings and to ensure respect for human rights.
HUSSAM O. TUQAN, Coordinator of medical care provided to Palestinians injured in Gaza and hospitalized in Egypt, Palestine Hospital, said that 1,164 patients had been treated, and provisions had been made for about 1,000 family members who accompanied them. Most of them had now returned home, except for 64 persons who had died and 364 patients who remained in Egypt, most of them with very serious injuries. When needed, the patients had been provided with wheelchairs and prosthetics. He appealed for help in rebuilding the medical facilities in Gaza and called for access for medical teams and medicines to the area.
In that connection, Mr. TANIN described the visit of the delegation of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People to the hospital yesterday, saying he had been moved by “the most horrific accounts” of what had happened. Most of the patients were in their teens and twenties, and it had been difficult to see the injuries those people had sustained.
GERARD PEYTRIGNET of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Cairo, said that ICRC's specific mandate in the field under international humanitarian law provided the framework for its work in situations of armed conflict, and his organization had tirelessly reminded all those engaged in military operations of the need to fully respect the principles of caution and proportionality and to respect the work of the medical missions and facilitate the provision of neutral and impartial humanitarian aid to those in need. Following the blockade and four weeks of devastating destruction, the situation in Gaza could be characterized as “dignity denied”.
While ICRC did not have clear answers to many of assessment questions, it was clear that generous multi-billion pledges made in Sharm el-Sheikh would not go far, unless concrete agreements and sustainable political solutions were reached, paving the way for the flow of aid, he said. Among numerous problems, he mentioned unexploded ordnance, large numbers of homeless people, large-scale loss of income, loss of farm land, destruction of medical facilities, as well as issues related to water, sanitation and electricity. Emergency assistance would not be enough for Gazans to get their lives back on track. Movement of commercial goods was needed, as well.
CHRISTINE VAN NIEUWENHUYSE, Head of the World Food Programme (WFP) Office in Jerusalem, said that protracted use of coping mechanisms before the war and the additional shock of the war required rapid economic and material responses. WFP was assisting some 346,000 Palestinians through emergency and regular distributions and school feeding programmes. It was also coordinating access of trucks from 28 organizations.
Describing the challenges ahead, she said that immediate and increased access to Gaza was crucial to any humanitarian efforts. All Gaza's borders must be opened and kept open on a regular basis, and humanitarian needs must be met. The Gaza flash appeal was only 28 per cent funded, and WFP operation was funded only 25 per cent. However, Gaza’s huge needs should not overshadow the difficult situation in the West Bank, which remained affected by high food prices, unemployment and severe movement restrictions.
AHMED SOURANI, Director of Projects and External Relations, Agricultural Development Association, Gaza, stressed the importance of developing strategies to address the implications of land confiscation for the creation of the buffer zone in the Gaza Strip. That had led to the destruction of numerous water wells, deprived 15 per cent of Gaza farmers from their lands and destroyed about 50 per cent of animal constructions and livestock and other facilities in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip. It had also destroyed tens of kilometres of agricultural roads and delayed many relief and development projects and services. All that could have serious implications for the future of the Gaza Strip.
Land was the only guarantee for any potential economic and agricultural development, especially in times of crisis, he said, calling for unified efforts to pressure the Israeli Government on the issue of the security belt.
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