Gaza blockade causes ‘near ten-fold increase’ in food dependency, says UN agency

At a time when Muslims globally are observing the holy month of Ramadan, more than half the population in Gaza depends on the international community for food aid, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said on Monday, citing a “near ten-fold increase” in need.

According to UNRWA, it must secure an additional $60 million by June to continue providing food to more than one million Palestine refugees in Gaza, including some 620,000 “abject poor” who cannot cover their basic food needs and are surviving on $1.6 per day. The funds are also needed to cover the severely challenged 390,000 “absolute poor”, who survive on about $3.5 per day.

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support, which has been outpaced by growing needs.

From fewer than 80,000 Palestine refugees in Gaza receiving social assistance in 2000, today over one million people need urgent food aid to get through their day.

“This is a near ten-fold increase caused by the blockade that lead to the closure of Gaza and its disastrous impact on the local economy, the successive conflicts that razed entire neighborhoods and public infrastructure to the ground, and the ongoing internal Palestinian political crisis that started in 2007 with the arrival of Hamas to power in Gaza,” said Matthias Schmale, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza.

UNRWA is also confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growing number of registered Palestine refugees.

Moreover, the tragic death of 195 Palestinians – including 14 UNRWA students and the long-lasting physical and psychological injuries of 29,000 people during year-long demonstrations, known as the ‘Great March of Return’ – come after three devastating conflicts since 2009 that, combined, left at least 3,790 dead and more than 17,000 injured.

A 2017 UN report predicted that by 2020, Gaza would be unlivable.

Today, with over 53 per cent of Gazans unemployed and more than one million dependent upon quarterly UNRWA food handouts, UN agencies and remittances from abroad are all that stand between Gaza and total collapse.

“For the first time in my year-and-a-half there,” Mr. Schmale elaborated, “I had three people talking to me separately about noticeably increasing drug abuse, increasing suicide attempts and prostitution and they put this down to the place is collapsing socially, in socio-economic terms and one can see it and of course against a background like that escalation is possible at any time”.

By continuing to deliver upon its mandate, UNRWA remains a critical lifeline for most of Gaza’s 1.9 million inhabitants, dispensing services in health and education and defending rights and dignity. Most urgent though, is the food assistance to more than one million Palestine refugees.

Operating with large financial shortfalls, as one of the few stabilizing elements in a very complex environment UNRWA is encouraging all Member States to work collectively to fund its programme budget as well as its emergency programmes, which are financed through separate funding portals.

UNRWA is tasked to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank – including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – to achieve their full human development potential.

UN condemns deadly attack on Burkina Faso church

Senior UN officials, including Secretary-General António Guterres have voiced their outrage at a deadly attack on a Catholic church in the north of Burkina Faso on Sunday, during which six people were reportedly killed by gunmen. 

According to media reports, the attack took place in the town of Dablo, situated in a region that has seen a spike in violence in recent months. The church was burned to the ground, along with other buildings including a health centre.

In a statement, Mr Guterres urged “all citizens of Burkina Faso to stand firmly with one another across communities and not to succumb to efforts to sow discord and breed further violence.” He also recalled the sanctity of all places of worship and expressed his hopes the perpetrators can be swiftly brought to justice, and urged “all citizens of Burkina Faso to stand firmly with one another across communities and not to succumb to efforts to sow discord and breed further violence.”

Maria Espinosa, President of the General Assembly, expressed similar sentiments, tweeting that the killers must be held accountable: “we cannot tolerate hatred. The fundamental right of religious freedom must be respected everywhere.”

Metsi Makhetha, the UN Resident Coordinator in Burkina Faso, also tweeted her response to the shootings in Dablo, condemning the “heinous attacks” and offering her condolences to the families of those who lost their lives.

The shootings came just days after warnings from top UN humanitarian officials, including Ms. Makhetha, of an “unprecedented” rise in “sophisticated armed attacks in the Sahel”, which are putting the future of a “whole generation” at stake.

Violence is spreading in Mali and Niger, as well as Burkina Faso, and risks spilling over into other West African countries. This has led to a five-fold rise in the displacement of the local population in the last 12 months, who have seen more than 330,000 people leave their homes, in addition to 100,000 refugees.

According to Ms. Makhetha, “ISIS-inspired” armed groups, threaten to destabilize longstanding traditional methods of community-based conflict resolution. “The UN, partner humanitarian organizations and Governments have stepped up operations. But we must do more.”

UN chief praises New Zealand premier’s ‘admirable’ response to Christchurch attacks

Speaking to media in the New Zealand capital Auckland on Sunday, alongside New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his solidarity with the victims and families of the March Christchurch mosque attacks, which killed 51 people, and praised Ms. Ardern’s leadership in the aftermath of the killings. 

Mr. Guterres pointed out that he normally pays a “solidarity visit” to a Muslim country during Ramadan but, this year, he decided to visit the Muslim community in Christchurch, “to pay tribute to their courage, to their resilience, but also to pay tribute to the extraordinary unity and to the message of solidarity that was given by the people and the government of New Zealand.”

The UN chief also expressed his admiration for Ms. Ardern’s rapid and decisive response to the mass shootings, which saw the Government immediately take measures to significantly strengthen gun control legislation, and her call to prevent hate speech on social media and the Internet. Ms. Ardern’s appeals and leadership, he added, were extremely important in the context of the UN initiatives to fight hate speech, and to better support countries in the protection of holy sites.

New Zealand ‘on frontline’ of climate action

The Secretary-General’s visit to New Zealand is part of a tour of the Pacific Island States in which the  urgent issue of climate change figures strongly : in his remarks to the press,  Mr Guterres thanked New Zealand for its leading stance in combatting the “climate emergency,” and the country’s support for the Pacific Island States, which he described as being on the frontline of the dramatic impacts of climate change.

“I’ll be visiting Fiji, Tuvalu and Vanuatu and conveying a very strong message from the Pacific to the rest of the world: we absolutely must catch up, we absolutely must be able to stop this dramatic trend, to reverse this dramatic trend. We cannot allow runaway climate change. We need to protect the lives of all people and we need to protect our planet.”

The Secretary-General also noted New Zealand’s introduction of legislation to achieve carbon neutrality before 2050, and keep global warming to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, a goal reiterated by the scientific community in a UN report released in October 2018, described at the time by Mr. Guterres as “an ear-splitting wake-up call.”

However, he said that political will has been fading in other countries, even though they are conscious of the need to act, which is one of the reasons for launching a special UN Climate Summit to be held at UN Headquarters in New York in September.

Paradise islands of Pacific increasingly vulnerable to climate change, as UN boosts resilience

A seeming paradise, life on the Pacific islands is threatened by climate change and extreme weather, frustrated by remoteness and a lack of educational and economic opportunities. Secretary-General António Guterres begins a visit to the region this weekend, where he will speak to people living on some of the islands and see for himself how the UN is helping to mitigate some of the biggest issues.

Simona Marinescu is the UN Resident Coordinator for the 28 islands that make up Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau.

Speaking to UN News ahead of the Secretary-General’s visit, she described some of the issues facing the region, including how to get young people to gain more schooling and skills to get or start their own businesses on the islands – and how to make the islands more enticing for businesses. Ms. Marinescu starts the interview by describing a trip to Tokelau, whose farthest island is 50 hours away by boat form Samoa.

The greatest threat to the way of life in the Pacific is climate change. Ms. Marinescu said one of the main concerns for Governments in the region is keeping the balance between access to finance and tools for adapting to climate change, while also growing their economies. Many of the small island Pacific nations are developing, and once they “graduate” to middle-income, doors to financing mechanisms close.

“They are proud to graduate,” said Ms. Marinescu. “However, they still remain fragile. They remain exposed to climate change. So a big debate right now is how we can decouple graduation from access to major funding streams that help them build resilience.”

Samoa, for example, jumped from the Least Developed Country to Developing status in 2014. It also received $65 million; one of the largest country allocations from the Green Climate Fund, for a six-year project on flood management – which means building seawalls and river walls to protect housing, and rethinking housing design.

Mr. Guterres will begin his visit to the region starting in Auckland, New Zealand, on Sunday. Follow all the highlights on UN News.

UNDP Samoa
Children in a Samoan village gathered at a safe location during a disaster drill.