In the midst of the ongoing conflict in Gaza, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) faces a critical situation that demands immediate attention. Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, recently held a press conference in Geneva, shedding light on the challenges the agency is grappling with and issuing a desperate plea for assistance.
Fuel Shortage Threatens Vital Operations
Lazzarini emphasized the severe repercussions of the fuel shortage, highlighting the potential disruption to essential services provided by UNRWA. The Commissioner-General expressed concerns over the deliberate attempts to cripple UNRWA's operations, jeopardizing the lives of 2.2 million people in Gaza who depend on the agency for vital aid.
Impact on Daily Life
The scarcity of fuel not only endangers the delivery of aid but also hampers water supply and access to cash through ATMs. UNRWA's commitment to meeting the needs of the Palestinian population is at risk, with Lazzarini warning of a looming crisis that could have devastating consequences.
Humanitarian Exodus: Gaza's North to South Migration
Lazzarini highlighted the unprecedented displacement of Palestinians, noting that it is the largest since 1948. Thousands have fled from the north to the south of Gaza, arriving in dire conditions—dehydrated, hungry, exhausted, and in shock. UNRWA's schools, now shelters for over 800,000 people, face challenges of overcrowding, insufficient food, water, and sanitation.
Dismal Living Conditions
The conditions within these shelters are dire, with up to 40% of occupants already suffering from skin diseases. Lazzarini underscored the urgency of the situation, emphasizing that there is no safe haven in Gaza, not even within UN premises.
Losses and Challenges Faced by UNRWA
The Commissioner-General lamented the significant losses suffered by UNRWA, with at least 103 staff members confirmed dead, though the actual toll might be higher. He vehemently refuted allegations that UNRWA promotes hate speech in its schools, asserting the agency's commitment to a zero-tolerance policy against hate, racism, and incitement to violence.
Lazzarini addressed misinformation circulating about UNRWA's involvement in the October 7th attacks in Israel, categorically denying any connection. He questioned the motives behind such claims and reaffirmed UNRWA's stringent measures to prevent aid diversion, highlighting the organization's thorough vetting process for suppliers.
Violation of UN Facilities
Disturbingly, Lazzarini reported frequent violations of UN facilities over the past six weeks, with recent instances of UNRWA schools being used for military purposes. This includes the discovery of weapons and the positioning of Israeli forces in at least two UN schools, constituting a blatant violation that endangers UNRWA personnel.
The Commissioner-General emphasized the urgent need to condemn such violations, stressing their severe implications for the safety of UNRWA field staff. If confirmed, these actions demand unequivocal condemnation and international intervention.
Escalating Water and Sanitation Crisis
With the dwindling fuel supply, Lazzarini reiterated his earlier warnings about the water crisis. Despite a recent delivery of a limited fuel shipment, stringent conditions restrict its use to specific purposes, leaving 70% of the southern population without access to clean water. As a result, sewage is beginning to flood the streets.
In conclusion, the situation in Gaza demands immediate international attention and intervention. UNRWA's plea for assistance is not just a call for aid but a desperate cry to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. The international community must act swiftly to address the fuel shortage, condemn violations of UN facilities, and ensure the safety and well-being of the vulnerable population in Gaza.