GENEVA, Switzerland, Nov 16 (IPS) – The reason I wanted to speak to you was to outline something very specific about Gaza, of course, which is about the approach being taken and planned by the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies to provide aid to Gaza.
A very specific thing – and the reason why I wanted to talk about this is because, of course – there have been allegations from certain quarters that we aren’t ready, that we don’t have the trucks, that we don’t have the fuel, why shouldn’t we use safe zones, and so forth. So, this is intended to demonstrate and to give some details, and I know that you’ve seen some of this already, of the approach that we plan to do.
Now, number one, we plan to follow the standard experience and procedures that humanitarian agencies have had all over the world. This is not new in itself. The extent of the suffering is insufferable, but the approach of humanitarian agencies, depending on the requirements of international humanitarian aid and support, is going to be the same in Gaza as it might be in Ukraine, in Sudan or elsewhere.
And I will describe what that might look like. And I’m saying this obviously in the context of the increasing flow of population down from the north to the south of Gaza. Clearly that’s the perspective. That’s the context in which I’m speaking.
So, I’ll go through these 10 points:
First of all, to facilitate the agencies’ efforts to bring in a continuous flow of aid convoys safely. The key word here is “continuous.” Aid needs to be reliable, on the day, on the next day, on the next week. People need to know that there will be aid coming tomorrow or the next day. They need to know that they have time to consume these supplies because more is coming at the next moment.
Number two: Crucial, crucial for the logistics – is to open additional crossing points for aid and commercial trucks to enter into Gaza, including Kerem Shalom from Israel. Now, much has been made of the importance of the need to provide opportunities for commercial aid to get into Gaza. By the way, once again, that’s a very common feature of the aspects of an urgent humanitarian program. Sudan was exactly the same, we had very similar points made in the early days, you remember the evacuation from Khartoum.
But it’s particularly important in Gaza because of the total dependency of a population which cannot move outside the territory. So more crossing points, including that Kerem Shalom, which used to carry more than 60 per cent of the truckloads going through before this conflict, this recent conflict started. So please, Kerem Shalom. Please Israel, give us that for our crossing point.
Next, allow the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations access to fuel. Now, you’ve heard a lot about the need for fuel. I believe Philippe Lazzarini has also issued a (statement) this afternoon, saying that they received about 24,000 litres of fuel. I just want to say a couple of words on fuel, probably to repeat what you’ve heard elsewhere.
Number three, fuel is the driver of so many aspects of the humanitarian response. It’s the driver of desalination. It’s the driver of electricity. It’s the driver of effective hospitals. It’s the driver of trucks that will go from Rafah on entry to the distribution points. The 24,000 litres – most welcome, no question about it – is not enough to provide the fuel that we need daily to get to the whole of Gaza.
My understanding is that to cover the whole of the Gazan territory and therefore all of the people in need, we would need about 200,000 liters a day. Now, this has been happening for years. UNRWA has extensive experience in this. UNOPS has extensive experience also in helping make the distribution of fuel. And we understand the need for monitoring.
But the idea that we have been pursuing daily and nightly in negotiation with Israel, Egypt, and with the assistance of the United States, is to replenish the stocks in the UNRWA depot near Rafah and then take it from there to be used by trucks going around Gaza to where people are able to be.
Number four: This is bedrock, of course: enable humanitarian organizations to deliver aid throughout Gaza without impediment or interference. I haven’t witnessed in my many, many decades of dealing with war, an occasion on which so much attention is being paid to the requirements of international humanitarian law, otherwise called the rules of war.
One of them is to allow people to go where they decide to go, they will decide where they’re safe. They will decide when they want to move and not move. And the same goes for us – that we need safety to deliver aid to wherever those people go.
Number five: Allow us – humanitarian organizations – to expand the number of safe shelters for displaced people in schools and other public facilities across Gaza. This is an absolutely central part of UNRWA’s preparedness – UNRWA, which thank God for UNRWA, is in existence and is still the buffer between survival and tragedy for so many people in Gaza. And it needs the opportunity to expand the number of safe shelters across the south.
For example, it could take an agreement with the Palestinian Authority to use PA schools to expand shelters for those fleeing south. We’ve all heard about the way in which UNRWA institutions, schools, hospitals and elsewhere are flooded with IDPs .
We need to expand the numbers of such institutions in the south. I’m not saying that all the people will go all to these shelters where we raise the UN flag to say, this is a UN-protected institution. But it gives us at least a little bit more chance to help people be safe.
Number six: Improve a humanitarian notification mechanism. I expect it’s familiar to most of you. But in all countries in conflict – whether it’s Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, where I spent a lot of time, and indeed Gaza – for many, many years, the humanitarian community has used a notification system, a humanitarian notification system, to deconflict specific places which are protected, either protected under humanitarian law – like hospitals, schools and other places – or to tell the parties this is where we will be moving, from A to B to C, to deliver aid.
We notify the parties, whether it’s in Ukraine, or Gaza or elsewhere, of what our plans are, so that they are on notice not to attack us, to allow what humanitarian law again requires: the safe passage of humanitarian assistance.
Number seven: Part of the approach, in the south, is to set up, establish and work from relief distribution hubs. There will be people who take shelter, as I have already referred to, who can receive aid directly where they are. There will be other people who are in houses or moving around or other places to live in.
And we will need distribution hubs to which they can come or from which we can go to deliver food, medical supplies and other items to them on a continuous basis. I spent some time in the last year in Ukraine, for example, where these distribution hubs, especially through the winter, were key, the key part of a humanitarian operation. It should be no different in Gaza.
Number eight: Fundamental – allow civilians to move to safer areas and to voluntarily return to their residences in the north, if they so desire. The freedom of movement of civilians in war is a fundamental privilege and requirement of international humanitarian law. You will have seen various statements of my colleagues in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee about the idea of safe zones, opposing the idea of safe zones.
The United Nations has a history on safe zones. We remember Srebrenica, we remember what happened then, and we know the requirements – legally and operationally – to make a zone safe, including, by the way, for example, that all parties should agree to this being a safe zone. So, we are not enthusiastic about such safe zones. But we also insist that, in any case, it is not for us or others to decide where people should go.
They should decide, if they want to decide to go to where is designated and is proposed as a safe zone, let it be. Let it be their decision, and we will, of course, provide assistance to them there. But we will not be part of an establishment of a safe zone which does not meet the requirements that we have found, through our own bitter experience, so demanding.
Number nine: Funding, boring as it is, $1.2 billion of an emergency appeal for the operation. I think we are into million so far. I was talking yesterday to Lynn Hastings, the Humanitarian Coordinator, based in Jerusalem, for the Occupied Territory, and I was asking her the question you write, which is: What do you really need now? She said fuel, money – money to fund the operation. We have incidentally around 460 trucks in Al Arish, in Rafah area, ready to go in.
And I am very grateful to hear today through the Secretary-General himself, that the Israeli Government has decided, and we thank them, not to put a cap on the number of trucks going in. We have the trucks, we need the fuel, and we need the money to fund the delivery. And then we can do the job that we are there to do.
Finally: Implement a humanitarian ceasefire. There has been a huge, huge discussion, particularly in the Security Council and elsewhere, on the difference between truces and hudnas and pauses and ceasefire. I have spent 50 years dealing with different words to describe something which is essentially very, very simple: Silence the guns. Stop the fighting to allow the people to move safely.
Do it for as long as possible. Allow them to move safely on their own, not hindered and not pushed. And silence those guns long enough to give the people of Gaza a breather from the terrible, terrible things that have been put on them these last few weeks. This is very, very important.
So, these points together constitute for us an approach which we are applying – it’s been going for some time – which we are applying for Gaza and we would apply elsewhere, if for example, the Occupied Territory became severely afflicted.
It’s not new. It won’t be perfect. It will be messy. It requires from the parties an adherence to humanitarian law and humanity. It requires from the international community funding urgently and quickly and requires from us and my colleagues the courage, which I think they have shown amply in these last few weeks, to go where others would not, but where the Gazans are and where they need their presence.
This article is based on a press briefing in Geneva on 15 November 2023.
Martin Griffiths is UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator
IPS UN Bureau
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