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Defunding UNRWA will have ‘catastrophic consequences’ for Gazans, warns WHO chief

January 31, 2024 at 4:04 pm

Palestinians, who left their homes and took refuge in Rafah city under hard conditions, carry the flour they received at the area where UNRWA (The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) distributes flour to families as Israeli attacks continue in Rafah of Gaza on January 28, 2024 [Abed Zagout – Anadolu Agency]

The World Health Organisation (WHO) chief, on Wednesday, warned that suspending funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees will have “catastrophic consequences” for people in the besieged enclave of Gaza, Anadolu Agency reports.

“Decisions by various countries to pause funds for UNRWA, the largest supplier of humanitarian aid in this crisis, will have catastrophic consequences for the people of Gaza,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press conference in Geneva.

“No other entity has the capacity to deliver the scale and breadth of assistance that 2.2 million people in Gaza urgently need,” Tedros stressed, and added: “We appeal for these announcements to be reconsidered.”

He reiterated his call for safe access for humanitarian personnel and supplies, as well as the release of all hostages and health care to be protected.

“And we continue to call for a ceasefire,” Tedros added.

READ: 72% of Israelis say aid deliveries to Gaza must be stopped, survey finds

Noting that over 100,000 Gazans are either dead, injured or missing and presumed dead as of Wednesday, he said that reports on food shortages for medical staff and patients are increasing.

“The risk of famine is high and increasing each day with persistent hostilities and restricted humanitarian access,” he said.

At least 12 countries — Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Canada, Finland, Australia, the UK, the Netherlands, the US, France, Austria and Japan — have suspended funding for UNRWA after Tel Aviv alleged that some of the agency’s staff were involved in the cross-border attack on Israel on 7 October.

Israel has repeatedly equated UNRWA staff with Hamas members in efforts to discredit them, providing no proof of the claims, while lobbying hard to have UNRWA closed as it is the only UN agency to have a specific mandate to look after the basic needs of Palestinian refugees. If the agency no longer exists, argues Israel, then the refugee issue must no longer exist, and the legitimate right for Palestinian refugees to return to their land will be unnecessary. Israel has denied that right of return since the late 1940s, even though its own membership of the UN was made conditional upon Palestinian refugees being allowed to return to their homes and land.

UNRWA said it terminated contracts with several employees following the Israeli allegations and launched an internal investigation.

Israel launched a deadly offensive on the Gaza Strip on 7 October, killing at least 26,750 Palestinians and injuring over 65,600. Nearly 1,200 Israelis are believed to have been killed in the Hamas attack.

However, since then, it has been revealed by Haaretz that helicopters and tanks of the Israeli army had, in fact, killed many of the 1,139 soldiers and civilians claimed by Israel to have been killed by the Palestinian Resistance.

The Israeli offensive has left 85 per cent of Gaza’s population internally displaced amid acute shortages of food, clean water and medicine, while 60 per cent of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.

READ: Jordan FM: UNRWA’s role in helping Palestinians ‘irreplaceable’