Mr. Guterres stated, through a statement from his spokesperson Farhan Haq, that this is a significant move in the correct direction, but there is still a lot of work to be completed.
Tor Wennesland, the leading United Nations official in charge of achieving a lasting peace in the Middle East, reiterated those statements and also expressed approval for the declared 96-hour “humanitarian pause” in war-torn Gaza.
During this break, it is important to make the most of it and work towards freeing hostages and improving the desperate situation for Palestinians in Gaza.
The recent progress indicates that UN humanitarian workers are still prepared to take advantage of the chance to increase vital assistance to the region.
‘Ocean of need’
After the four-day truce was declared, the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) made new appeals for secure and unrestricted humanitarian entry into the Gaza Strip.
Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, stated that the conflict must end in order for us to efficiently increase our assistance efforts. He expressed that constantly providing small amounts of aid in Gaza is not enough to meet the overwhelming need for help.
At this time, the World Health Organization reported that a fresh evacuation was taking place at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City due to ongoing conflict, and that additional evacuations would occur in the northern part of Gaza.
As per media sources, the truce between Israel and Hamas was set to commence within 24 hours after it was announced. In his declaration, Mr. Wennesland expressed gratitude towards the Governments of Egypt, Qatar, and the United States for their role in “facilitating” the agreement.
Dr. Richard Peeperkorn, the representative of WHO in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, expressed gratitude for any updates on a potential pause in hostilities and the liberation of hostages, but emphasized the necessity for a complete cessation of violence.
During the WHO press conference in Cairo, Dr. Al-Mandhari urged for a “lasting cessation of hostilities” and emphasized the importance of prioritizing the well-being and health of their respective populations for all parties involved in the conflict.
The official from the UN health agency also held a moment of silence to pay tribute to Dima Alhaj, a WHO employee who was killed in Gaza on Tuesday, along with several family members. He expressed that while we mourn, we are faced with the tragic reality that this conflict is senseless and no one in Gaza is safe, including our fellow UN workers.
Since Hamas’ attacks on October 7th, which resulted in 1,200 fatalities in southern Israel and 240 people being taken hostage, 108 employees of the United Nations have been killed in the Gaza Strip.
Additional hospital evacuations currently in progress.
On Wednesday, Dr. Peeperkorn announced that a joint effort was in progress to evacuate patients and healthcare personnel who were still at Al-Shifa, in collaboration with humanitarian organizations such as the Palestinian Red Crescent and Médecins Sans Frontières.
On Sunday, a joint effort was made to evacuate 31 premature infants. There are currently 220 patients and 200 healthcare workers still at the hospital. The first priority for evacuation will be given to 21 dialysis patients, 29 patients with spinal injuries, and those in intensive care, according to Dr. Peeperkorn.
Additionally, he stated that the United Nations health organization has been notified of requests for evacuation from three hospitals in the northern Gaza region: Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, Al-Awda Hospital, and Indonesian Hospital. Plans are currently being made, and the WHO and its partners are working diligently to ensure that these evacuations take place within the next few days.
He clarified that these evacuations are only carried out when requested and as a final option.
Attacks on healthcare
Dr. Al-Mandhari expressed concern over the lack of protection for hospitals in Gaza, stating that they are not immune to the “horrors” of the conflict. According to WHO, there have been 178 documented attacks on healthcare facilities in the Strip since October 7th. Out of the 36 hospitals in Gaza, 28 are currently non-operational, as reported by Dr. Peeperkorn.
According to the speaker, the eight hospitals located in the southern region are currently experiencing a high level of demand and it is crucial to ensure their continued operation and increase their number of available beds.
Before the recent increase in violence, the enclave had approximately 3,500 hospital beds. However, due to the escalation, that number has decreased to less than 1,400.
More assistance is needed.
The possibility of a temporary truce has sparked optimism for better opportunities for desperate civilians in Gaza to receive aid and an uptick in the amount of relief supplies entering the area.
According to UN humanitarian affairs coordination office OCHA, the aid trucks which have been entering Gaza since 21 October represent barely 14 per cent of the monthly volume of humanitarian and commercial transport reaching the enclave before the start of the current hostilities; this excludes fuel, which had been completely banned by the Israeli authorities until just a few days ago.
According to OCHA, 63,800 liters of fuel was delivered to Gaza from Egypt on Tuesday. This was made possible by an Israeli ruling on November 18th which permits the daily import of limited quantities of fuel for crucial humanitarian purposes.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, is distributing incoming fuel to assist with food distribution and the functioning of generators in hospitals, water and sanitation facilities, shelters, and other essential services.
There is no food in the northern region.
Amid concerns of starvation in the northern region due to Israeli military actions, reports of a ceasefire agreement have surfaced. Humanitarian organizations have been barred from delivering aid since November 7th and the lack of cooking resources has forced people to rely on raw produce for sustenance, according to OCHA. Additionally, no bakeries are currently in operation.
The OCHA issued a warning about the dire conditions for livestock in the northern region, stating that they are at risk of starvation and death due to a lack of food and water. Additionally, crops are being abandoned more frequently.
10 days ago, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations stated that it viewed the entire civilian population in Gaza as lacking access to adequate food.
The demand for mental health services has dramatically increased.
The ongoing bombings, displacement, and overcrowding in UNRWA shelters are causing significant psychological strain for Gazans. In some shelters, up to 400 people are forced to share one toilet, exacerbating the distress. According to OCHA, the demand for mental health care has greatly increased, particularly among the most vulnerable, such as children, people with disabilities, and those with pre-existing complex conditions.
According to OCHA, only a limited number of shelters in Gaza are able to provide psychosocial support and psychological first aid to those seeking protection. It has been reported that several services have been destroyed and staff are unable to work.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) emphasized a rise in the number of unaccompanied minors and families being separated. They stated that an interagency strategy is being formulated to address this issue, which includes documenting individual cases.