TEHRAN: United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said yesterday on a visit to Iran that it will take months to repair damage to the UN’s infrastructure caused by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
“Damage to hospitals, schools and UNRWA shelters where people displaced sought refuge will take months to rebuild,” she said, referring to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.
Amos was speaking to reporters at the start of a two-day visit for talks with Iranian officials on the humanitarian crises wreaked by conflicts in the Gaza Strip, Syria and Iraq.
“The UN response continues including deliveries of food, water and households goods. Medicines and fuel are being delivered to hospitals,” she said.
A total of 97 UNRWA installations, including health and food distribution centres as well as schools, have been damaged in the war since July 8 between Israel and the Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip.
The conflict, in which an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire has taken effect, has killed almost 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 67 on the Israeli side, almost all soldiers.
Amos noted the United Nations had made “strong statements” about “the violation of international humanitarian laws and human rights laws by all parties in Gaza”.
Turning to Syria, she said that 11 million people were in need of humanitarian aid, including 241,000 living in areas under siege.
“Insecurity, fragmentation of armed groups and administrative obstacles imposed by the government hamper the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” she said.
Amos welcomed the role played by Iran, a key ally of the Syrian government, and other countries with influence on the warring parties to gain access to conflict zones. “This remains a work in progress because we still have substantial numbers of people that we are unable to reach,” she said.
The UN says that 365,000 Palestinians are still displaced in Gaza. Feriel Al Zaaneen hasn’t had a shower in more than a month. Like thousands of Palestinians, she doesn’t have enough water to wash, adding to the miseries of life in war-battered Gaza.
In searing summer heat, where temperatures can reach 34 degrees Celsius, Feriel is one of more than 218,000 refugees sheltering in 87 UN-run schools from a conflict that has killed at least 1,980 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side since July 8.
“There’s no water here and the toilets are very dirty, this is no kind of life,” she said. Zaaneen, her children and grandchildren, some 50 people, fled the Israeli bombardment of their homes. She says she faces a daily struggle to get water, a precious resource in the Hamas-controlled enclave which has been under Israeli blockade since 2006.
Muntaha Al Kafarna, a mother of nine who has been living in a small tent she set up in the courtyard of the same school, near the toilets, managed to shower at a nearby hospital in the northern Gaza Strip. “The water was cold, and there wasn’t very much of it, but I didn’t have any other solution,” she said.
“People are fighting here in the school to use the toilets, my sons wet themselves before their turn comes,” she said. “I wish a missile would hit us, me and my children. Dying is better than this life,” she said in despair.
Ashraf Al Qudra, spokesman for the health ministry in Gaza, says skin diseases, rashes and itchiness have been reported in shelters housing refugees. Among the children, there have been “many cases of chronic diarrhoea” and “several cases of meningitis reported”, he added.
Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), says there are water shortages not only in shelters for the displaced but across the entire enclave. “Because of the Israeli bombardment of the infrastructure, there is a lack of water across the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Most residents suffered water shortages even before the war, but now Monzer Shoblak, an official from the local water board, said war damage meant that Gaza was pumping 50 percent less water. Shoblak’s water authority declared Gaza a “water and environmental disaster area”.
The territory’s only power station was knocked out by Israeli shelling during the conflict, practically stopping the provision of drinking water, he said.
Samar Al Masbah, 27, who lives in Al Zahra City southwest of Gaza City, said water to his home had been cut off around 10 days ago. “When the water comes, the electricity cuts, so the water doesn’t get to the tanks on the roof because it needs a motor to push it up,” she said.