Palestinian employee of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) hold a sign during a protest against a US decision to cut aid, in Gaza City January 29, 2018. (REUTERS/Mohammed Salem).
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
NEW YORK – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the Gaza Strip as a “constant humanitarian emergency” and said he was “extremely concerned” about the financial cuts made to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
“The humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza remains dire,” Guterres said in remarks at the opening on Monday of the 2018 session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
“The United Nations Country Team in Palestine has predicted that Gaza will become unlivable by 2020, unless concrete action is taken to improve basic services and infrastructure,” he said.
“Yet Gaza remains squeezed by crippling closures and a state of constant humanitarian emergency,” Guterres said. “Two million Palestinians are struggling everyday with crumbling infrastructure, an electricity crisis, a lack of basic services, chronic unemployment and a paralyzed economy. All of this is taking place amid an unfolding environmental disaster.”
On Tuesday, the UN repeated a warning made Monday by Mahmoud Daher, director of the World Health Organization’s offices in Gaza ,that fuel for hospitals and medical clinics in the Gaza Strip will run out within the next 10 days if no arrangements are made to replenish its supply.
In a statement, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Palestinian territories said emergency fuel for critical facilities in Gaza “will become exhausted within the next ten days.”
Guterres in his speech lamented the recent cuts made to the UNRWA following US President Donald Trump’s decision last month to withhold funds from the program.
“I am extremely concerned that the latest shortfall in UNRWA’s funding will gravely impair the agency’s ability to deliver on its mandate and preserve critical services such as education and health care for Palestine refugees,” he said. “At stake is the human security, rights and dignity of the five million Palestine refugees across the Middle East.
“But also at stake is the stability of the entire region which may be affected if UNRWA is unable to continue to provide vital services to the Palestine refugee population, both across the occupied Palestinian territory and in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.”
“I appeal to the generosity of the international community not to let that happen,” Guterres said.
The United States said this month it would withhold $65 million of $125m. It had planned to send to UNRWA, amid worsening bilateral relations between Washington and Ramallah that followed Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Guterres told the committee that the international community “must face reality” and acknowledge that “the potential to create an irreversible one-state reality that is incompatible with realizing the legitimate national, historic and democratic aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians” is fast approaching.
“Ongoing settlement construction and expansion in the occupied West Bank, including east Jerusalem, is illegal under UN resolutions and international law. It is a major obstacle to peace and it must be halted and reversed,” he said, adding, “Violence and incitement continue to fuel a climate of fear and mistrust.”Adam Rasgon and Reuters contributed to this report.