REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
18 July 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the World Health Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Trade Organization, the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Responding to questions were Spokespersons from the High Commissioner for Refugees and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Asked about the situation in Gaza, Ms. Momal-Vanian referred to the Secretary-General’s statement issued late last night where he expressed serious alarm at the escalation of the violence and disappointment that the humanitarian pause did not achieve a lasting ceasefire.
Amanda Pitt of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that according to the latest information she had from Gaza, as of 17 July, at least 219 Palestinians, including 168 civilians, were reported to have been killed during the air, naval and ground strikes in Gaza, including at least 48 children and 29 women. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, some 1,585 Palestinians had been injured, including 435 children and 282 women. Apparently, some 1,600 homes had been destroyed or severely damaged, displacing nearly 10,000 people. There were currently more than 22,000 people sheltering in 24 UNRWA installations. Supplies were being delivered daily, including mattresses, food, water and hygiene kits. Journalists could contact UNRWA directly for more information. OHCA was also concerned about the water supply in Gaza, about half the population was without water at this time.
Ms. Byrs said WFP had moved rapidly to take advantage of the humanitarian pause the day before and provided urgent food assistance to hospitals, shelters and households hosting displaced persons. WFP was pushing out food distributions to families early so that they had sufficient food stocks during this urgent time, focusing on northern Gaza. In the next few days, WFP hoped to reach 85,000 people with food distribution. It was also providing additional emergency electronic food vouchers to newly displaced persons so that they could purchase food in local shops. WFP had moved food stocks into position around the Gaza Strip and was taking part in an inter-agency mission to assess food needs.
Asked how many people WFP was providing with food, Ms. Byrs said they were already providing monthly food assistance to over 600,000 persons, among the most vulnerable people in Palestine, including 285,000 in Gaza, 319,000 in the West Bank. Together, WFP and UNRWA provided food assistance to approximately 67 per cent of the total population of the Gaza Strip. WFP had distributed emergency food rations and vouchers to more than 20,000 displaced persons since the conflict erupted.
Ms. Chaib, in response to a question, said that they knew that in Gaza, there were a lot of power shortages. The fact that there was no water in hospitals was also a big problem. For years, Gaza hospitals had been suffering from power cuts. In the current offensive, several health facilities had been damaged, including the Gaza European Hospital with 250 beds, and El Wafa Medical Rehabilitation Hospital, which had caused the temporary evacuation of patients. Four ambulances had also been damaged, one while on route and the other three when they were parked in an ambulance centre. The situation was difficult. WHO had made an urgent appeal for $ 60 million to support the Ministry of Health in meeting the chronic medical needs for chronic diseases and to help women during their pregnancy or delivery and to provide medical and emergency supplies for the injured.
Asked if children were already at risk, Ms. Chaib said WHO was worried about the outbreak of diseases, especially diarrheal diseases, if there was no access to potable water and if the sanitation system was not in order. For an infant or a young child, diarrhoea could be a fatal disease, so it was very important to have access to water and the pre-position treatment to treat children.
Mr. Tidey said further on the water systems, with respect to infants, UNICEF was procuring essential paediatric drugs. In terms of the infrastructure itself, UNICEF reports said that air strike related damages to water lines, wells, sewage pumping stations and treatment plants had further exacerbated the overloaded water and sanitation system in Gaza. It was estimated that only 50 per cent of the sewage pumping and waste water treatment systems were operational. There were 900,000 people currently without water supplies due to the inability to repair and operate infrastructure. Apparently some water technicians were killed in the strikes. Another 800,000 people were impacted by the potential for sewage contamination of the water system through damage to sewage pipes. UNICEF was already scaling up water tankers into communities whose water had been completely cut off, and providing bottled water and hygiene materials. At this stage, they did not have any reports of water-borne diseases.
Ms. Momal-Vanian recalled what UNRWA underlined last Tuesday that the present conflict was only exacerbating a situation that was already very bad. The UNRWA Commissioner said on 14 July that Gaza’s aquifer would be entirely contaminated in the next three to four years, making the Gaza Strip essentially unliveable. So the current fighting was just exacerbating a situation that was already unbearable.