With nearly half a million displaced in Gaza, UNRWA head calls on Israel to take responsibility

03/08/2014 13:45

Palestinian child views his destroyed home for the first time during ceasefire hours in the Shuja'iyeh neighborhood of northern Gaza. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Palestinian child views his destroyed home for the first time during ceasefire hours in the Shuja’iyeh neighborhood of northern Gaza. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Today the Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) told members of the UN Security Council that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has surpassed United Nations capabilities for emergency shelter and services and is now the responsibility of the Israel army.

“The occupying power will have to assume direct responsibility,” said Pierre Krahenbuhl, speaking by telephone from Gaza City. Krahenbuhl expressed regret that UNRWA no longer has the resources to provide for the additional influx of refugees expected from cities Israeli authorities notified to evacuate last night. Palestinians are fleeing the towns of Khan Younis and Zeitoun, yet there is no organization on the ground that has the resources to provide food or water, let alone shelter for the scale of those in need.

The United Nations estimates up to 440,000 people are now displaced with 240,000 residing in UNRWA facilities. This means a quarter of the population of Gaza is living in tenuous, temporary shelter. In addition to the devastation to the civilian infrastructure in the northern communities of Shuja’iyeh, Beit Hanoun and Jabaliya, over 103 United Nations facilities and 24 medical facilities have been damaged. Seven UNRWA workers have been killed since the beginning of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge nearly four weeks ago.

Inside of the UNRWA shelters, the overcrowding is compounding the human impact. Disease has started to spread amongst those who are holed up UNRWA facilities where families are cramped 80 to a room. “Infection is beginning with skin rashes, scabies and others,” said Krahenbuhl.

“I feel we are facing a precedent,” Krahenbuhl continued, warning the Security Council that Gaza “will become unlivable in a mater of years unless urgent steps are taken.” He concluded that the humanitarian crisis has now “exceeded” UNRWA’s reach and “immediate steps” must be taken to address root issues, not limited to Israel’s security and lifting the blockade across the besieged Gaza Strip. He stressed accountability from Israel as the occupying power to provide dire relief, as UNRWA has exhausted all of its means of caring for nearly a quarter million refugees.

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