8 January 2009 – Despite the violence in Gaza, where a military operation Israel says it launched in response to Hamas rocket attacks has been ongoing for two weeks, United Nations agencies are delivering vital supplies to civilians caught up in the deadly conflict.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) delivered wheat flour to 30 Gaza bakeries, enabling them to bake bread for civilians who are finding it increasingly difficult to access food. Amid the recent hostilities, only 12 out of 47 bakeries were functioning earlier this week.
WFP-contracted bakeries can now produce 5,000 3-kilogramme bread parcels per day, but it is difficult to get the bread from the bakeries to the people who need it most, the agency noted in a news release.
The violence that began on 27 December has killed an estimated 680 people so far and wounded over 3,000, according to UN officials, who have repeatedly stressed the need for an immediate halt to the fighting and humanitarian access to assist those affected.
WFP has reached more than 50,000 people from its regular caseload of 265,000 non-refugee Palestinians in Gaza. It stressed that while it has food stocks in Gaza, it is vital to ensure that all crossing points into Gaza are re-opened to ensure food assistance over the coming months.
Essential humanitarian supplies were already in short supply in Gaza before the military operation began because Israel kept border crossings into the area closed, citing rocket and other attacks by Gaza militants.
Some 150 trucks carrying about 4,500 tons of WFP food have been waiting for several days to deliver into Gaza at the southern Kerem Shalom crossing point, which is currently the only available crossing point from Israel into Gaza.
The agency welcomed the Israeli announcement on Wednesday of a three-hour daily ceasefire from 7 January, as a first step towards creating the necessary “breathing space” to resume full-scale distributions.
Yesterday’s three-hour ceasefire provided a small window of opportunity for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to release essential pre-positioned supplies for delivery to families in Gaza, including 560 family water kits and 5 health kits.
“The ceasefire is a first small step in addressing the urgent needs of children caught in the conflict, but a great deal more needs to be done to protect the vulnerable, including children, and an immediate and durable cease-fire by all parties is the only means by which their urgent needs can be met,” the agency said in a news release.
UNICEF noted that many Gazans have fled their homes, seeking shelter with friends, relatives or in schools, while others are sleeping in the cold. Parents say children have had very little sleep and they show the common signs of trauma including severe anxiety, bed wetting, loss of appetite and general malaise.
The agency is working with child protection partners to produce and broadcast radio and television messages designed to help parents keep their children as safe as possible and to enable them to identify and manage symptoms of distress.
In addition, five UNICEF-supported psychosocial teams, each composed of 20-30 social workers, psychologists, lawyers and volunteers, are on standby to conduct emergency home and hospital visits, and provide psychosocial and socio-legal assistance as soon as access is possible and security permits.
According to information received by UNICEF, over a million Gazans – approximately 75 per cent of the total population – do not have electricity. In addition, hospitals are struggling to function, with the availability of fuel – needed to keep generators running – at precariously low levels. Gaza’s water and sewage system is also on the verge of collapse due to the lack of fuel and power.
UNICEF is working closely with partners to stockpile drugs and supplies to meet needs in coming months and to move them to the affected area. Supplies ranging from family hygiene kits, water purification tablets and emergency education material are already on route from UNICEF country offices in the region.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) reported that three mobile clinics were damaged amid the fighting on Monday, during which new specialized medical equipment was destroyed. The ongoing violence has also meant that many health workers have not been able to reach their workplaces. In addition, the capacity of emergency rooms and intensive care units to treat the injured is quickly being overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, the International Labour Office (ILO) has voiced its deep concern about the impact of the violence on workers and their families, “who have lived through the hardships of long months of closures and are now exposed to the devastation of a war situation.”
Even before the recent turmoil, Gaza had the highest unemployment rate in the world, the agency noted in a news release. It joined calls for an immediate ceasefire and the need to permit access to emergency humanitarian supplies and assistance.
“Of special urgency are essential food, water and medical supplies, fuel for electricity generation and cash for the payment of civil servants. These have to be promptly followed by emergency social protection and employment measures,” the agency stated.