Remarks by Robert Turner, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza
Shifa Hospital, Gaza
19 November 2012
I have come to Shifa Hospital to see, at first hand, the dreadful price this conflict is exacting on the people of Gaza and to express my condolences and sympathies to those who have lost family and friends, and to those who are suffering: the children, the women, the elderly, the sick and the dying.
Yesterday saw the highest death toll of any single day since the latest upsurge of violence began. It has been reported that yesterday’s victims included at least ten members of the same family, the majority of whom were women and children. These are not the first children to have died. Unless immediate pressure can be brought to bear on the parties, they will not be the last.
I deplore the tragic loss of life that we are witnessing, and condemn – as all people of conscience must – the death of civilians. I call for restraint, a de-escalation of the military action, and for all sides to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, the main aim of which is to protect civilians.
In the face of these terrible circumstances, which have already claimed one of our staff members, UNRWA’s intent is to continue the delivery of services to Palestine refugees in Gaza. The vast majority of our health centres have remained open throughout the fighting, but we must remember that even before this recent escalation there were significant shortages of medicines and supplies. Urgent support to the health sector is required. Where the situation allows, our food distribution programme will continue. Yesterday alone, UNRWA staff distributed food aid for more than 12,000 people throughout Gaza.
UNRWA has continued to mitigate public health risks through the provision of solid waste collection services in the eight refugee camps across Gaza. In addition, with the 245 UNRWA schools forced to close, UNRWA TV – our distance learning initiative – continues to broadcast 12 hours of lessons per day. This allows for the education of 225,000 UNRWA students to continue despite their inability to attend school.
Allow me to echo the Secretary General’s request by calling on all parties to redouble their efforts to find a just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine, based on international law and UN resolutions. Failure to do so perpetuates an environment in which violence prevails over dialogue. Not only that, it condemns the people of this region to continue to suffer from the effects of that violence.
These people have suffered enough. Thank you.
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UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance and emergency assistance.
Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund, supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the budget deficit stands at USD 37 million.