The Energy and Water Needs in Gaza in the Context of a Humanitarian Catastrophe

DSC_9658The United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, focusing on “Speeding up relief, recovery and reconstruction in post-war Gaza”, opened this morning at the headquarters in Vienna, hearing a message from the Secretary-General and statements by the senior adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas representing the State of Palestine, the Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of Austria and the Chairperson of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

Opening the meeting, being held from 31 March to 1 April, Fodé Seck, Committee Chairperson, said the two-day event would review the immediate and longer-term humanitarian and development needs in the Gaza Strip and in particular Gaza’s severe housing, fuel, power, environmental and water crises, which had intensified greatly in the wake of the war in 2014. The Seminar would also strive to identify the obstacles to Gaza’s recovery and reconstruction.

DSC_9648Ban Ki-moon, in a message delivered by Yury Fedotov, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Vienna, discussed the operations of the temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, brokered by the United Nations, and commended the Governments of Israel and Palestine for their continued adherence to it, as well as their statements of commitment to a durable solution for Gaza. Mr. Ban urged the Palestinians to overcome their divisions and donors to honour their commitments. He called for the full opening of the crossings into Gaza and emphasized the need to break the cycle of “build-destroy, build-destroy, build-destroy”, which caused so much needless suffering and waste in the enclave.

Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, Director-General of the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of Austria, said reconstruction and development in the Gaza Strip depended upon efficient aid, but also on a political process and the freedom of movement, for which access to Gaza was a prerequisite. He spoke about Austria’s assistance to Palestine and said the country stood ready to continue to assist the Palestinian people to meet their challenges, in order to find a lasting peace of two democratic States living side by side.

Mr. Seck, speaking in his capacity as Committee Chairperson, said that in the aftermath of the war, the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza had become a near catastrophe. It would take time, money and the efforts by all to rebuild Gaza and equip it with a sustainable infrastructure. Although there had been encouraging first steps, many obstacles remained on the road to full recovery. The Committee welcomed the formation of the National Consensus Government and the start of its activities in Gaza and the fact that an increasing number of States were recognizing Palestine.

DSC_9695Mohammad Shtayyeh, Senior Adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Seminar was taking place just days after the Israeli elections in which the Israeli public had moved even further to the right by choosing a Government that had officially declared its intention to destroy the possibility of a Palestinian State. He spoke about the new direction being taken by the Palestinian leadership to achieve a lasting peace, and warned that Israel had the choice of a two-State solution or a one-State solution, a de jure apartheid State.

Following the opening statements, the Seminar’s first plenary session, on the immediate and longer-term humanitarian needs in the Gaza Strip, began with statements from experts on the subject. Taking the floor first was Samer Salameh, Assistant Deputy Minister of Labour, State of Palestine, who said that the humanitarian needs in Gaza were not just a result of the 2014 war but an accumulation of Israeli policies; in particular, the siege of Gaza. The immediate needs there, he said, included social protection, health infrastructure and job opportunities, and $1.2 billion was needed to meet them.

DSC_9785Ahmed Sourani, Resilience Development Expert, Gaza, said more than half the population in the Strip was excluded from economic activities and a huge number of people lived on the brink of poverty. He called for a focus on inclusive, community-based initiatives and micro-projects that could play a small role in economic revival, and on strengthening the role played by women in the economy.

Kathleen Maes, Head of Office, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Gaza, gave an overview of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The way forward, she said, must involve accountability and a durable ceasefire that addressed root causes and lifted the blockade. Priority interventions needed for internally displaced persons were also essential, as were water, sanitation and hygiene services, and the provision of durable energy.

Eva Pilipp, Special Coordinator of the Palestine Society for Austro-Arab Relations, Vienna, focused on the needs of children and young adults in Gaza, who made up 60 per cent of the total population. It was not only infrastructure that had been destroyed but also minds, especially those of children, she said, also drawing attention to the rise in rates of domestic violence and aggressive behaviour between children since the 2014 war.

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