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UN refugee agency launches Palestine appeal

19 December 2014


Destruction: a district in Gaza after bombardment

Destruction: a district in Gaza after bombardment

THE UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has launched a £264-million appeal to help support the most disadvantaged families. Other aid organisations have expressed concern at the slow pace of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip.

The deputy commissioner-general for UNRWA, Margot Ellis, said that she was disappointed that 2014 was ending "as yet another year without a durable solution to the plight of Palestine refugees". The past months had witnessed more violent conflict "that has yet again caused the irreparable and inconsolable loss of lives".

The UN agency says that the conflict in Gaza earlier this year "devastated the economy, which had already been weakened by years of blockade. With even fewer livelihood opportunities, food insecurity has deepened, and now represents the bulk of the UNRWA emergency programme."

The agency is seeking to provide "basic food to over 800,000 food-insecure refugees, and provide 245,000 students with one small meal per school day. UNRWA will also provide emergency cash assistance. Additionally, UNRWA will provide emergency health and education, as well as counsellors, to help address the needs of children and adults in trauma."


Oxfam, in its December Gaza update, points out that "three months since the ceasefire, and nearly two months since the international community pledged $5.4 billion [£3.4 billion] in aid, the reconstruction of Gaza has barely begun, and the Israeli blockade remains firmly in place. The needs are greater than ever, yet even fewer construction materials are now entering Gaza than before the conflict."

The report adds that about 100,000 people - more than half of them children - are still displaced, as their homes have been destroyed. Vital water and sanitation infrastructure, schools, and health facilities also urgently need rebuilding. Such massive reconstruction "will require hundreds of thousands of truckloads of essential materials as soon as possible. However, in November, just 287 such truckloads entered Gaza. At this rate, reconstruction and development could take decades."

As winter sets in, Oxfam says, the situation is becoming increasingly urgent. Homes, schools, and shelters have already suffered severe flooding owing to heavy rains, and this is expected to get worse this month. Many families are living in makeshift shelters, with no heating or running water, as temperatures drop.

"It is deplorable that such little progress has been made, given the enormous scale of needs and massive destruction," Oxfam's regional director, Catherine Essoyan, said. "People in Gaza are becoming increasingly and understandably frustrated at the lack of progress. The international community has repeatedly failed the people of Gaza; it must not fail them again at such a critical time."

Looking to the future, Oxfam says that, because long-term ceasefire talks scheduled to begin by the start of November have not happened, the agency remains "extremely concerned that conflict will continue to reoccur unless long-standing issues are addressed".

The health of Gaza residents is another concern, and the Christian charity Us. (formerly USPG) has launched a Christmas appeal on behalf of the Anglican Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza.

The Ireland director of Us., Linda Chambers, has described some of the scenes she encountered during a recent visit to the hospital. At the paediatric out-patients clinic, she witnessed a young mother and her underweight baby having a check-up. The doctor "talks to the mother about nutrition. When she leaves, he admits that educating mothers is useless when there is no food, and many babies live on tea and bread.

"Waiting to go in next is a father and three children. Both little boys have been suffering from skin complaints, and have raw red rashes on arms and legs, and behind their ears. Their father and hospital staff blame chemicals in bombs dropped by Israel in July and August."

In the waiting room for the physical-therapy department, "we are stopped by a woman with serious damage to her eye. She says her eye injury and a serious leg injury are the result of a beating from Israeli soldiers during the invasion in July. She was trying to protect a young man and was beaten herself."

Waiting in the burns unit is a young man "who yesterday burned his whole arm with boiling oil. There is no cooking gas available in Gaza, and, like many others, he was deep-frying over an open fire. He will be treated with a whirlpool - a tank of water rather like a mini-jacuzzi. This encourages blood flow into damaged tissue."

Restricted electricity supplies are causing problems for all institutions in Gaza. The Al-Ahli Hospital has generators as a back-up, which allows operating theatres and electronic equipment to be used. But fuel for generators is expensive; so the hospital wants to install solar panels - a big investment, but a cost-effective one. Installing the panels would require expenditure of £120,000, while the annual saving on fuel would be £65,000.

Concluding her report, Ms Chambers wrote: "If we needed it, our trip certainly convinced us of the positive impact we can have by supporting the vital work of Al-Ahli Hospital."


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