29 January 2009
Op Ed by
Sweden’s Minister for Development Co-operation, Gunilla Carlsson
The Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Karen AbuZayd
Already before 27 December the humanitarian situation in Gaza was critical, due to 18 months of isolation and flare-ups of Palestinian rocket shooting and Israeli attacks. There was a shortage of food, fuel and medicines – 75 per cent of the 1.5 million inhabitants in Gaza were dependent on food aid from the UN.
Although it will take time to assess the scope of the human suffering and the humanitarian needs, the three weeks of intense Israeli attacks in Gaza have had devastating humanitarian consequences. 1,314 people, including 412 children, have been killed, according to Palestinian sources, 5300 people, including 1,855 children, have been injured. Over 50 UN facilities, mostly schools, have been damaged.
After 22 days of fighting, people who had fled began returning to their homes. Many of them, however, have no home left. An estimated 15 percent of the buildings in Gaza have been destroyed, according to sources on the ground.
The humanitarian needs only, are estimated at present at hundreds of millions of dollars and the total reconstruction costs are likely to run into billions of dollars. But the task ahead of us is not only to provide humanitarian assistance and contribute to the reconstruction of Gaza. It is also about providing its people with a dignified existence, to give them a forward looking perspective which is realistic and positive. This is necessary in order to mitigatea against the agenda of extremism and violence.
As in all conflicts, children and youth are among the most vulnerable. In Gaza, 56 percent of the population are children. This translates into some 850.000 children in urgent need of a future perspective. Although they are used to violence and a dire humanitarian situation, the recent conflict has brought new horrors to their lives. Some have lost family members and homes and many suffer from traumatic experiences.
Together, we have defined 10 key steps to building a future for the children of Gaza:
1: Urgent humanitarian needs must be met. Food, medicine, fuel, water and sanitation, as well as shelter for the homeless must be provided. Homes must be rebuilt. The UN is currently assessing the damage and relief needs. A Consolidated UN Appeal for urgent funding will be presented soon.
2: Unexploded ordnance must be removed and infrastructure rebuilt. Ammunition that has failed to explode upon impact can continue to kill and maim, long after the end of hostilities. The shortage of construction material has forced UNRWA to suspend construction projects worth 93 million USD since June 2007.
3: Every effort must be made to bring children back to a sense of normality. Programmes focussing on psychosocial support, an area in which UNRWA, other UN actors, Sweden and several NGOs are already active, warrant extra attention and resources.
4: Children must get back to school as soon as possible. Schools in Gaza, about half of them run by UNRWA, normally provide 440.000 children with education. They also bring important routines, social activity, and a way for children to escape from an otherwise stressful environment. Already, classes have resumed in more than two hundred UNRWA schools, providing education to some 200,000 children.
5: The children of Gaza must be allowed to be children. UNRWA‘S Summer Games Programme for the last two years has attracted hundreds of thousands of children in educational and recreational activities which have helped the children escape the stress of poverty and violence. It is UNRWA’s firm ambition to arrange a similar programme in 2009, despite the evident challenges.
6: International humanitarian assistance must be well coordinated. Humanitarian actors and donors have a responsibility to avoid unnecessary duplication of both assessments and assistance. The UN has a particular role to play here.
7: Development cooperation in support of the Palestinian government’s reform and development plan must be sustained. State building through support to democratic institutions including the justice sector, civil society and sustainable local development, municipal services, access to clean water, sanitation and energy is essential for Gaza’s recovery, aiming at long-term stability and viable development.
8: Gaza’s economic isolation must be brought to an end. Border crossings must be opened for people and goods, including construction materials, while specific measures are needed to prevent smuggling of weapons and explosives to Gaza. Increased imports of consumer goods to Gaza must pave the way for imports of industrial goods. A viable Gaza economy is dependent on open borders for exports as well as imports.
9: The ceasefire must be kept and reinforced. UN Security Council resolution 1860 must be implemented, in all its aspects.
10: There must be a return to a political peace process, leading to a Palestinian state. The goal remains: A comprehensive solution to the conflict in the Middle East and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, living side by side with Israel in peace and security.
Despite the difficulties we now face and the suffering arising from the conflict, we must never lose sight of this goal. We owe that to the Palestinian children we serve. They have the same right as children in Israel and children anywhere: to a future without fear, in peace, security and dignity.
UNRWA, since long a key actor in the region and Gaza, has played a crucial role during the attacks and will continue to play an important role in Gaza, by providing urgent humanitarian assistance and assistance to education, basic health care and micro-credit and job creation projects. 60 years after its creation, UNRWA is now facing a new challenge – to play a central role in the rebuilding of Gaza. Sweden is ready to support UNRWA in this effort.
Sweden has a long tradition of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, not least through financial and political support to UNRWA, other multilateral agencies and NGOs. As the third largest donor, Sweden will continue with unearmarked contributions in order to give UNRWA the greatest possible flexibility to use the funds.
For more information please contact:
UNRWA Arabic Spokesperson
Office: +972 (0)2-589-0724