REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
25 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 Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Refugee Agency, World Food Programme, World Health Organization and the International Organization for Migration.
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was still in the Middle East region, Ms. Momal-Vanian said. He was currently in Cairo, where he met yesterday with Secretary of State John Kerry. The Secretary-General would probably meet again with Secretary of State Kerry and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt today. It was likely that he would depart Cairo today to return to New York, said Ms. Momal-Vanian, however she noted that the Secretary-General’s programme could change at any time given the very fluid situation in the region.
The Secretary-General this morning spoke by video link to staff at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to thank them for their admirable and courageous work and express his solidarity with them, Ms. Momal-Vanian informed the press, adding that during the conversation a young staff member told the Secretary-General that there was currently no safe place in Gaza.
Ms. Momal-Vanian also noted that UNRWA figures as of 24 July showed the number of displaced people in Gaza was now nearly triple the peak number from the 2008 to 2009 conflict, and exceeded 141,000 in 83 schools.
Paul Garwood, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said the WHO was calling for the creation of a humanitarian corridor to help evacuate the large number of injured people from Gaza. The local WHO office had been discussing the creation of a humanitarian corridor, to reach various crossings, with the Israeli authorities over the last few days, and Mr. Garwood understood the consultations were being held with the Egyptian authorities as well.
Providing the latest injury figures, Mr. Garwood said that overall, between 6 and 24 July, 5,118 people had been injured in the conflict inside Gaza. That figure included 1,561 children, 1,700 women and 203 elderly people.
On the casualties, he said at least 788 people had been killed so far, which included 185 children and 93 women. The figures came from the Palestinian Ministry of Health on the ground and were verified by the WHO in the field, Mr. Garwood said.
The daily increase in the number of casualties was striking, and underscored the health situation, he said, recalling that by 15 July there were 91 casualties, by the next day the figure was 189, and more recently, by 22 July there were 489 casualties, by 23 July there were 526 and by 24 July the number of casualties was 599. People needed to be evacuated given the huge strains on the medical facilities in Gaza.
The attacks on health facilities and the impact on staff and patients underscored the need for health facilities, patients and staff to be protected – a requirement under international humanitarian law.
Mr. Garwood briefed on the funding gap for the health sector, saying that US$60 million had been requested. US$40 million of that was for health supplies and US$20 million to cover the health costs of patients referred to other health facilities. Of that US$60 million six per cent had been funded so far.
The World Health Organization statement and situation report (covering 23 July) were available at the back of the room, noted Mr. Garwood.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said on 24 July WFP reached over 160,000 conflict affected people in Gaza with emergency food assistance. That was an increase of 50,000 people in just two days. The distribution was in addition to the 285,000 people WFP reached regularly with food assistance.
The emergency relief included: emergency ready-to-eat food for 140,469 displaced people in Gaza who had taken refuge in UNRWA schools used as shelters and to 10,000 people who were sheltered in public school buildings. It also included emergency electronic food vouchers to 1,318 displaced families – approximately 7,908 people – who were living with host families. Further, a total of 2,039 patients and staff in hospitals continued to be assisted with emergency food rations.
Additional wheat flour, canned meat, milk and canned beans were currently being procured and were expected to arrive by the end of the week and early next week. To meet the increasing needs for fresh bread, WFP was in the process of contracting an additional fourth bakery in Gaza to cover the needs for the emergency distributions.
Regarding funding, Ms. Byrs said WFP urgently needed approximately US$10 million to reach conflict-affected people in Gaza. The latest WFP distribution report would be sent to the media this morning.
Questions on Gaza Emergency
Chris Tidey, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), answered a question about the reported targeting of children in Gaza. His latest update, which covered until 9.30 a.m. on 25 July, showed a further 10 Palestinian children had been killed in Gaza in the last 24 hours. Mr. Boulierac said he could not comment on targeting of children, and that UNICEF’s understanding was that the deaths were a result of injuries caused by the ongoing violence and shelling.
A journalist asked what the purpose and duration of a humanitarian corridor would be. Mr. Garwood responded that WHO staff in Gaza were communicating with the Israeli authorities daily about the possibility of enabling the wounded to leave Gaza, but the public call for a humanitarian corridor only came out yesterday focussing on the health needs, on getting people evacuated who had medical needs. Whether the corridor would be permanent or not, Mr. Garwood said no timeframe had been set, the corridor was needed urgently. As long as the need persisted there should be ability to gain access.
A journalist asked whether the request for a humanitarian corridor was solely a WHO initiative, and whether all United Nations humanitarian agencies were working together on it. Mr. Garwood responded that the term ‘humanitarian corridor’ was being used in lots of contexts, and for WHO it was the term it was using to gain access for healthcare reasons.
Ms. Momal-Vanian responded that all United Nations agencies, under the leadership of the Secretary-General, who was currently in the region, were asking very strongly for all parties to stop the violence and to provide access for humanitarian aid, and any help people needed, health-wise or other.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), agreed that it was a very fluid and confusing situation. The United Nations humanitarian system was calling for humanitarian pauses. Of course everybody was calling for an immediate ceasefire, and had been doing that for some time. People were dying at a very alarming rate. Localised ceasefires were called for, where wounded people could be evacuated, and accessed with healthcare and other sort of relief. Those who were wounded needed care, and needed to get out.
A journalist asked about the response from the Israeli and Egyptian authorities in response to the WHO request for a humanitarian corridor? Were WHO Director-General Dr. Chan or Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon making direct calls with the request? He also asked how many people had died through lack of access through border points, for example in ambulances that needed to cross Israel to get to Jordan.
Mr. Garwood responded that he was unaware of any responses so far to the call for a humanitarian corridor. It was difficult to say how many people had died as a result of lack of access across border crossing, but the situation report showed that a very, very small number were even making it to border crossings, let alone getting through.
A journalist asked about the reported targeting of medical facilities in Gaza, and whether WHO knew how many ambulances, hospitals and medical facilities had been destroyed and how many were viable. Mr. Garwood replied that he was unaware of targeting of health facilities, but as they were located within the conflict zone they had been impacted by it. He confirmed that four hospitals out of 20 had been damaged and two had been closed, 12 Ministry of Health/UNRWA clinics been damaged, and 20 out of 75 Ministry of Health UNRWA clinics had been closed. The facilities were suffering from shortage of supplies, such as bandages and gauze, and had great need of other similar materials. Medical supplies were getting into Gaza when possible, he said, confirming that a shipment of medical equipment, at a value of US$1.4 million to treat more than 400 to 500 people, was due to be shipped into Gaza today, from Amman. But just yesterday nearly 600 people were injured - the needs were huge and WHO would continue to advocate for more support.
A journalist recalled that last week an UNRWA spokesperson said the United Nations had given the GPS code of hospitals and schools in Gaza to the Israelis, and asked if it could be said Israel was targeting hospitals and schools intentionally.
In the case of the UNRWA school hit yesterday, the UN could only say that UNRWA had confirmed it had provided the Israelis with the coordinates for that school, as it had for others, responded Ms. Momal-Vanian.
A journalist asked whether UNRWA facilities were still considered safe for the people of Gaza.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said everything was relative in terms of safety. UNRWA, in a statement issued by its Commissioner-General yesterday, confirmed that the school hit yesterday had been designated as an emergency shelter and its coordinates had been formally conveyed to the Israeli authorities. He also noted that it was the fourth time in the past four days that an UNRWA school had been struck by explosive projectiles.
The spokesperson for the International Labour Organization also attended the briefing but did not speak.