‘Latest conflict deepened Gaza humanitarian crisis’
There is a crisis in almost every aspect of life in Gaza, and Palestinians will never have decent living conditions unless the blockade is lifted, Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, told RT.
RT: Your agency has hit back at Israeli allegations that it allows its facilities in the Gaza Strip to be used by Hamas to launch rockets towards Israel. Have your schools and hospitals been used for this? Do Hamas fighters hide behind so-called “human shields?”
CG: As far as our facilities are concerned, absolutely no credible evidence at all has been produced to substantiate any allegations – at all. Now, on the question of whether Hamas hides behind our installations, you must understand: we’re humanitarian agency and we do not patrol the streets outside our facilities. We don’t have a police force, we don’t have an intelligence service. So it’s very hard for us to say what’s happening outside our facilities. We are, however, responsible for what happens inside our facilities. And although during the last fighting in Gaza in 2008-2009 there were indeed accusations that there were militants inside our compound and in our installations, these were never ever substantiated.
RT: Why would Israel make these allegations, though?
CG: You’d need to ask the Israelis that.
RT: How would you describe the humanitarian situation in Gaza now, and how long will it take for Gaza to recover from these latest attacks?
CG: Well, even before the current upsurge in fighting, there was a crisis in almost every aspect of life in Gaza. There was a crisis of education; we’re in the process of building a hundred new schools, because there is acute overcrowding in schools in Gaza. There is a crisis of public health, because, for example, 90% of all water in Gaza is undrinkable. Millions of liters of raw sewage are flowing into the sea every day because the sewage system is not functional. And the list goes on: there’s a crisis, as I say, in nearly every aspect of life. The economic conditions are not good – the United Nations recently produced the report Gaza 2020, which showed that there would be 500,000 new human beings in Gaza [by the year 2020], and all of the, you know, burdens of that increase on the public services.
RT: 2020 was the deadline in this UN report, by which the place will no longer be habitable. Has what’s happened in the last eight to nine days brought that day forward?
CG: Well, it’s hard for me to say anything meaningful about that, but I can tell you that a humanitarian crisis has been made more acute, because, obviously, buildings have been destroyed – not on the scale I’d venture to say as we saw during 2008-2009. UNRWA has begun an assessment of the damages, and it’s going to take us a long time. But already as far as our beneficiaries are concerned, and there 1.2 million beneficiaries of UNRWA in Gaza. We’ve started to give rental subsidies to people whose homes were completely destroyed, to give out subsidies for people so they can repair their homes. And that’s why we’ve launched an appeal for $12.7 million for the mediate recovery period – that’s for food and non-food items – and we hope that our donors will respond generously. Individuals can go to www.unrwa.org and give also.
RT: Hamas claims that Israel has made some concessions for the people of Gaza. We have heard that the blockade may be eased to allow the flow of people and goods. What’s your understanding of this – will it help the humanitarian mess in Gaza?
CG: Well, we have to see what is going to happen as far the blockade regime is concerned. We have always called for the blockade to be lifted. We’ve said that it’s a collective punishment of 1.7 million people. It has to end and we have to see what kind of new arrangement has been decided in relation to the blockade. We hope it’s good news for the people of Gaza.