10 February 2009 – The United Nations agency tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees has distributed notebooks to 11 schools in Gaza over the past week, but has halted further distribution since it has not been able to import any additional notebooks.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) added that it has still not received permission to import the necessary paper to print the remainder of its textbooks, leaving 60 per cent of children without textbooks.
John Ging, UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, voiced exasperation last week at not being able to get paper into the area, some three weeks after Israel ended its devastating offensive against Hamas with the stated aim of stopping rocket attacks against it.
“It’s really beyond comprehension,” he stated, adding that this “shameful” situation was the result of politics.
Along with paper, UNRWA is also unable to import bulk plastic needed to package food aid, a dire situation for an agency responsible for feeding some 900,000 people.
UNRWA has repeatedly warned that not nearly enough food and other vital supplies are getting through because of Israel’s closure of most crossing points into Gaza. All crossings are closed today due to the holding of Israel’s general elections.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York today that things have not improved since he visited Gaza in early January. “I saw, with my own eyes, how difficult life has become for ordinary people. These difficulties have not diminished since my visit,” he said.
“Nearly 1 million refugees depend on daily UN aid. Yet we are getting in supplies for only 30,000,” he noted.
Mr. Ban also announced that he had initiated steps to establish a UN Board of Inquiry into incidents involving death and damage at UN premises in Gaza during Israel’s offensive. Led by Ian Martin of the United Kingdom, the Board will include legal advisers and a military expert and report back to the Secretary-General within a month.
UNRWA also reported that thousands of Gazans remain homeless following the Israeli offensive which, in addition to killing 1,300 Palestinians and injuring more than 5,300, destroyed or damaged 21,000 homes.
As of yesterday, three non-school UNRWA shelters remain open in Jabalia, Beach Camp and Deir Al Balah, hosting 388 displaced people. Priority needs for the population include blankets, mattresses, plastic sheeting, kitchen kits, hygiene kits, water tanks and clothing.
Meanwhile, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 25,000 to 50,000 new people are likely to be in need of psychological intervention for longer-term effects of the hostilities.