The damage caused by the Israeli military operation in Gaza makes it impossible for thousands of people to return home, despite the ceasefire, due to lack of services, water and electricity, Ramesh Rajasingham of the UN humanitarian agency OCHA told RT.
The UN has released a new report stating that the number of people displaced in Gaza is still rising, despite a truce put in place after a full-scale operation by Israel against Hamas that claimed the lives of 2,210 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and over 70 Israelis.
The UN report notes that there was a significant drop in the number of displaced Palestinians at the end of August, down to 53,000, but the situation changed at the beginning of this month, with more Palestinian refugees flooding into UN shelters, sending the figure up to 58,217.
RT spoke with the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) in Palestinian Territories, Ramesh Rajasingham, for an analysis of the situation.
RT: The latest figures show an increase of displaced Palestinians despite the existing ceasefire. Why is that?
Ramesh Rajasingham: We have about 110,000 Palestinians displaced now. They are either in schools run by the UN organization UNRWA or they are staying with other families, who actually have their homes. There are many reasons for this. We have about 18,000 homes, which are either fully destroyed, or irreparably destroyed. So 18,000 homes means 18,000 families without a home today. But these figures have also been added to by those who’ve gone back to their homes and they’ve seen that they have no services, no electricity, no water – primarily due to destruction during the conflict. They have also not been able to access services. They don’t have adequate supplies, etc. In many ways, what they can get in the shelters is better than what they can get at home. They can perhaps have access to water in the shelters.
The humanitarian organizations have been helping these families in these shelters as well as the families that are hosting them with emergency water, hygiene kits, and food. Almost the entire population of Gaza is receiving food assistance through the main organizations UNRWA and the World Food Programme. So the level of destruction and devastation in the Gaza Strip has made it impossible for some of these families to return home. Even though they possibly do have a roof over their head, they can’t actually live there with any decent amount of services.
RT: This military operation has seen an unprecedented level of destruction for Gaza and a huge number of civilian losses from both sides. Is there any way for Israel to justify that?
RR: We are looking primarily at the humanitarian impact of the conflict. In fact, now that you have a ceasefire and those who can return home have returned home is absolutely an imperative, a must, and is a very positive development. Even before the conflict Gaza was suffering tremendously from the blockade. It was very difficult to get building materials in, difficult to get equipment in, and spare parts – in what we called a de-development situation. So on top of that the conflict just further aggravated the situation and brought a terrible humanitarian crisis for almost the entire population. We’ve had 118 schools damaged, of them 22 have been entirely destroyed. Now this comes on top of the situation where Gaza required 200 schools. So in many cases children will be worse off in terms of education. We had 50 healthcare centers damaged, 17 hospital damaged.
The water infrastructure has been damaged. We have almost half a million people today who have no access to water because there isn’t enough pressure or the system is damaged. Electricity – we have 18-hour power cuts for most of the population in Gaza because either the infrastructure is damaged, or in the case of the power plant, it stopped functioning because it was directly hit by the bombardment. The situation in Gaza at this point, even though we do have a ceasefire, is a humanitarian crisis. What we would obviously ask is not just to provide humanitarian assistance – which is what most of the organizations are doing today – but, to help Gaza recover, to help rebuild Gaza, so they can regain some degree of normalcy and not go back to where they were.