Christine van Nieuwenhuyse, WFP Country Director for the occupied Palestinian territories, travelled to Gaza with a joint UN preliminary assessment mission. This is her account of what she saw.
I fully expected to see serious damage, but I have to say I was really shocked when I saw the extent and precision of the destruction. Whole industrial areas completely flattened, buildings blasted into piles of rubble. While there were some areas left totally untouched, it was precisely the strategic economic areas that Gaza depends on to relieve its dependency on aid that were wiped out. We travelled all over the Gaza Strip; the north, the centre and the south, and everywhere there was this horrific picture of devastation.
No sector seems to have been spared. Industrial plants, hospitals, schools and even agricultural land has been laid waste. The American International School, an emblem of liberal education, has been reduced to a heap of broken concrete and twisted metal.
I talked to our national staff, who remained in Gaza and carried out distributions throughout the fighting. As a delegation, we identified five main priorities, on which we need to concentrate humanitarian efforts:
- Firstly, food. Large numbers of both the refugee and non-refugee population have still not received food assistance, and while some commercial food is available, there is a desperate shortage of cash, and we are going to have to continue to step up our distributions.
- The second priority is power. Many power lines are down and will have to be repaired as quickly as possible to restore electricity to thousands of households and commercial premises.
- The third priority is to deal with the quantity of waste water that is flowing through the streets, flooding into buildings and contaminating agricultural land. This poses an enormous risk to health and it is vital that drains and sewers are repaired to prevent epidemics.
- Fourth, shelter. An estimated 16,000 people are living in temporary UNRWA shelters. Thousands more are living with relatives or host families.
- Finally there is an urgent need to take steps to help people recover from the trauma they have suffered, especially the children.
It is hard to estimate how much it will cost to rebuild Gaza. Preliminary estimates put the cost of early recovery at US$0.5 billion, but much more will be needed over the coming months and years.
As a first step, we must get full humanitarian access. This means an end to restrictions at crossing points, with all types of humanitarian goods and construction materials allowed in. And most important of all is for the ceasefire to hold. I cannot imagine the horror of putting the people of Gaza through this terrible experience again.