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Source: Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
2 February 2009

Geneva 2 February 2009
2 February 2009

John Holmes, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, today launched the Gaza Flash Appeal at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. He later spoke to the press at a press conference, accompanied by Karen Abu Zayd, UNRWA Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and Max Gaylard, Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian territory, based in Jerusalem.

“As you know, we have just launched the flash appeal for Gaza for the immediate humanitarian needs and early recovery needs following the three weeks of hostilities which started on 27 December,” Mr. Holmes said. “This flash appeal is designed to cover a period of nine months approximately, to cover immediate emergency relief items. But also emergency essential repairs and all that is needed in that period. It is not about longer-term reconstruction. That is a separate issue which will be addressed separately. It is not about defining all the early recovery needs. That will be done separately in a separate assessment which is underway, led by the Palestinian National Authority. This is very much for the emergency phase.”

Mr. Holmes said the immediate amount they were appealing for was $ 613 million, which covered around $ 30 million for agriculture; $ 92 million for cash for work and cash assistance programmes as it was very important to inject some immediate relief and purchasing power to the Palestinians who suffered from this conflict; $ 30 million for coordination support services and logistics; $ 27 million for early recovery, much of which was for residential housing and essential rehabilitation repairs; $ 46 million for education, as there were huge needs in terms of damaged schools and replacement of equipment; $ 153 million for food security; $ 46 million for health, to put back together the health sector; $ 5.5 million for protection of civilians, for issues to deal with protection from unexploded ordnance and protection for children and monitoring of human rights abuses; $ 38 million for psycho-social and mental health issues because of the trauma suffered by so many of the population; $ 119 million for shelter items and non-food items; and $ 25 million for water, sanitation and hygiene.

Mr. Holmes said it was important to emphasize that while the appeal responded to the immediate needs mainly caused by the hostilities, the hostilities came at the end of a period of 18 months when there were very severe restrictions on what kinds of goods could get into Gaza, and the state of vulnerability of the population was already very great.

“ There are three requirements if this relief operation is going to be successful. The first most obvious one is that the current unilateral fragile ceasefires be stabilized and made into a durable ceasefire so that we have a reasonably peaceful environment in which to operate,” Mr. Holmes said. “The second, and this is crucial also, is much freer access for humanitarian goods, commercial goods, humanitarian staff, people in general, and also last but not least, cash as the economy cannot function without cash.” The Emergency Relief Coordinator said they had called for the full, predictable and systematic opening of all the crossing points, both for humanitarian goods and for commercial goods.

“The third requirement is that we are able to conduct these relief operations free from any political interference. We want to work with the Israeli authorities, that is essential because they control the crossing points. We want to work with the Palestinian National Authority because they still pay a lot of the civil servants in Gaza, they are the legitimate authority. And of course we need to work with those in control on the ground, whoever they may be, on the technical basis to make sure we can do what we need to do,” Mr. Holmes said. “It is important that we are able to do that, and that none of these parties attempt to control politically the immediate humanitarian assistance we are giving”. He said that in a very political context, it was very important to have that humanitarian space in which to operate.

In response to a question on how the United Nations would spend the money to reconstruct Gaza, adding that Tony Blair had said that they should deal with Hamas as the reality on the ground, Mr. Holmes said the United Nations position essentially had not changed. They had been dealing on the ground with those officials and ministries, and very many of those were effectively controlled by Hamas. Where they had to deal with them at the technical level, they had no hesitation to doing that. That position remain unchanged. During the emergency relief and early recovery phase, the UN would operate pretty much directly as they already did through the agencies on the ground. UNRWA was an important part of this, as it constituted half of the appeal or more, with 10,000 staff on the ground. The services were delivered, in the vast majority, directly to the beneficiaries, so the question of whether the United Nations was being controlled by this party or that did not arise.

Answering a question on what the status of the appeal was, and why he mentioned preventing political interference specifically, Mr. Holmes said on 17 January, they had launched an interim response plan, and they had already received in response to that about $ 80 million. So that was a start, but it was only 13 per cent of what was needed. There had also been a generous response outside the appeal, including more than $ 100 million of other contributions in kind or cash. Delegates responded very positively in principle to the appeal this morning. He had appealed for donors to move away from contributions in kind to financial contributions to provide the immediate, adaptable and flexible resources that were needed. On the political control he had mentioned, Mr. Holmes said it was not because they had had problems, but they had had difficulties of access, including the sporadic flow of goods over the past 18 months, and they did not want to go back to that situation.

Asked to describe the destruction and the situation on the ground, Mr. Holmes said there were some areas in Gaza which were relatively untouched, and other areas which looked like a complete earthquake zone, like they had been systematically bulldozed. The scale of that destruction was very shocking. How were people living? Some had been able to pick up the bits of their lives relatively normally, while others were living in the midst of the ruins of their houses. For the $ 1 billion pledged by the Saudis, the reconstruction plan and the channels for that did not exist yet, that was a longer-term issue.

UNRWA’s Commissioner General, Karen Abu Zayd, said the usual depression and shock were there, but also the resilience that they always saw in the Palestinians and the determination to get things back to normal. An example was that they were trying to get all the children back to the Government schools and the UNRWA schools; 90 per cent of the children were back in school. For the people whose houses were destroyed, some were renting places elsewhere, some were staying with families or neighbours, and some were living among the ruins of their houses. As for the $ 34 million pledged by Kuwait, that completely covered UNRWA’s early flash appeal that went out just after the war started. That was a very welcome donation. But most of this money had been pretty much spent or was committed. What they needed were funds for the early recovery and the reconstruction eventually.

Responding to a question on how many crossings with Israel were now open 24 hours, and whether Israel had pledged to compensate financially or in kind to all UN supplies and facilities destroyed, Mr. Holmes said the simple answer to the questions was none and no.

Asked if Israel had ever compensated the United Nations for damage done, Ms. Abu Zayd said during the eight years of the Intifada, UNRWA had calculated and recorded the damages of about $ 1 million to UNRWA installations. That had all been put to Israel for compensation, but they had not received any.

In response to a question, Mr. Holmes said there had been stories about diversion of aid getting into Gaza by Hamas. Concerning the aid which the United Nations had been channeling to its own operations, he was not aware of any instances of that aid being diverted. There may have been one or two donations from outside which may have been hijacked along the way. Israel was concerned about construction materials, cement, pipes, other kinds of equipment which they believed could be diverted to military uses. As part of the process of freeing up the crossings, the United Nations would look into how it could strengthen its ability to say whatever it brought through those crossings went to what it was intended for, and not for some other purpose.

Asked why the United Nations had given Israel the GPS locations of the UN installations in Gaza, Mr. Holmes said that the reason that the GPS locations were given were to make sure that they were not attacked. That did not work in all cases. He hoped that whatever happened in those cases, they did not know yet, that they were not deliberately attacked. That was why they needed to await the results of the enquires before saying more on that.

Ms. Abu Zayd said that according to the Israelis, what happened were mistakes, although when their own Headquarters compound was bombed or shelled over a period of hours, “it was something more than a mistake, I think. That is why we have to have some inquiries into some of these things.”

In response to another question, Mr. Holmes said the appeal before the hostilities for Gaza and the West Bank was $ 462 million. The new appeal, if they added the consolidated appeal and the flash appeal, would be $ 800 million plus, so the difference was about $ 340 million between the two, so that gave journalists some measure of the extra needs that had risen from the hostilities.

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