21 January 2009 The top United Nations humanitarian official arrived in Jerusalem today to begin an assessment of the needs on the ground in the Gaza Strip following the three-week Israeli military offensive that came to a halt just a few days ago.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and John Holmes will lead a humanitarian needs assessment team into Gaza tomorrow, together with the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry.
During his four-day mission, Mr. Holmes is scheduled to meet with UN staff in Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as representatives of aid agencies, civil society and donors.
“Mr. Holmes plans to stress the need to facilitate quick delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a news release.
The 22-day offensive, which Israel launched on 27 December with the stated aim of ending Hamas rocket attacks, claimed over 1,300 lives, 412 of them children, and wounded more than 5,450, 1,855 of them children, as well as causing widespread destruction and suffering.
The bombing and shelling caused extensive damage to civilian facilities throughout the Strip, and supplies of basic food and fuel, and the provision of electricity, water and sanitation services remain critical.
Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, will examine the damage wrought to buildings and infrastructure, including UN properties, by the violence. He will also visit the facilities of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), where tens of thousands of civilians sought shelter after fleeing their homes during the military operation.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had announced he would dispatch an assessment team after Israel declared its unilateral cessation of hostilities on Saturday. Mr. Ban was able to see the devastation first-hand when he visited Gaza on Monday, the culmination of a diplomatic mission that took him to several capitals in the region.
“This is shocking and alarming. These are heartbreaking scenes. I am deeply grieved by what I have seen today,” the Secretary-General said as he surveyed the aftermath.
Meanwhile, OCHA reported today that Gazans displaced during the military operation continue to make their way home, but many of them are now homeless due to the extensive destruction of homes. As a result, they remain with host families or in UNRWA-run shelters. There were more than 18,000 people remaining in 30 shelters as of yesterday.
OCHA also reported that the Gaza crossings at Erez, Karni, Nahal Oz, Kerem Shalom and Rafah were all open today. However, the majority of mills and bakeries in Gaza remain closed due to a shortage of wheat flour and cooking gas, resulting in an acute shortage of bread.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is trying to help by delivering flour to bakeries, and WFP-contracted bakeries are now working to produce 5,000 three-kilogramme bread parcels per day. WFP also reports that a first shipment of 10 tons of nutritious date bars – supplied by Egypt under WFP’s Operation Lifeline Gaza – made it into the Strip yesterday.
At the same time, the agency remains concerned by security constraints, which are limiting access to its warehouses. It does not have access currently to some 520 tons of food – or 12 per cent of WFP’s current stocks in Gaza.
Meanwhile, a vaccine storage facility in Gaza is now functional, and routine vaccines will be available until March, thanks to support from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). In addition, two UNICEF-supported therapeutic centres are working at full capacity to provide services for 120 malnourished children per day.
UNICEF also managed to deliver six trucks of family hygiene kits to needy Gazans yesterday, and get more than 1,300 water purification tablets into Gaza – enough to purify drinking water for 30,000 people for the next three months.
In an attempt to get schools up and running again as soon as possible, UNICEF is working to repair windows, desks and chairs at schools, as well as to provide clean sanitation facilities for girls. It is also providing a first wave of 40,000 students with school supplies.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), for its part, will be working on two main fronts during the early recovery phase – restoring reproductive health care, including maternal and neonatal services, and providing psychosocial support to traumatized survivors.
UNFPA will focus on rehabilitating and restoring reproductive health infrastructure and services, including emergency obstetric and newborn care units. Some 3,700 women went into labour during the 22-day conflict, according to the agency. A number of them suffered death and delivery-related injuries due to lack of services to fully support them.
The Fund added that the entire population of Gaza, including health professionals, is at risk of post-traumatic stress in varying degrees. It will deploy social workers, counsellors and other trained professionals to work with those affected.
OCHA added that only $63 million of the $117 million needed for priority projects in Gaza has been committed or pledged so far.
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