The Gaza Strip is No Longer Habitable – UNRWA Chief

Lazzarini said the people of Gaza are now crammed into less than one-third of the original territory, near the Egyptian border.

Dec 14, 2023

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini has told the Global Refugee Forum that the people of Gaza “are running out of time and options, as they face bombardment, deprivation, and disease in an ever-ever-shrinking space.”

“They are facing the darkest chapter of their history since 1948. And it has been a painful history,” Lazzarini said on Wednesday, in Geneva, after arriving straight from the besieged enclave.

He said the people of Gaza are now crammed into less than one-third of the original territory, near the Egyptian border.

“It is a living hell” with Rafah now hosting well over a million people. “It used to be home to 280,000 people,” he stressed, and “lacks the infrastructure and resources to support such a population.”

Aid, Lazzarini said, can no longer reach those who could not move to the south.

“It is unrealistic to think that people will remain resilient in the face of unlivable conditions of such magnitude. Especially when the border is so close.”

He pointed out that the entire humanitarian response relies on UNRWA’s capacity and that “it is now on the verge of collapse.”

Desperation and Chaos

The UNRWA chief questioned what 100 trucks per day can offer to 2.2 million people, saying “I have no answer to a father of five in Rafah who asked me how he and his children can survive on one can of beans for three days.”

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“The sight of a truck carrying humanitarian assistance now provokes chaos. People are hungry,” he said. “They stop the truck and ask for food, and they eat it on the street. I witnessed this first hand.”

He said they are still distributing whatever food they manage to bring in, but this is often as little as a bottle of water and a can of tuna per day, per family, often numbering six or seven people.

This operational reality is not suitable, he added, “not for the population and not for the agency.”

More than 130 UNRWA staff are confirmed killed since the current Israeli aggression on the territory, with civilian infrastructure and UN facilities not being spared by the shelling.

“I was horrified by images yesterday of an UNRWA school being blown up in the north of Gaza,” Lazzarini said.

He echoed the call by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, who called for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the siege to allow in sufficient aid.

“They feel betrayed as the world fails to act in the face of one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of our time in Gaza,” Lazzarini lamented.

He said “but Palestine refugees need a just solution, not just aid,” adding that the political process needs to be revived urgently.

Also speaking at the forum, Grandi said a major human catastrophe is unfolding in the Gaza Strip and “so far the Security Council has failed to stop the violence.”

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He said “we foresee more civilian deaths and suffering and also further displacement that threatens the region.”

Grandi said the number of refugees and displaced people worldwide is already at a high of 114 million, “a figure that reflects a crisis – in fact many crises – of humanity.”

‘Gaza is Not Habitable’

The influx into Rafah has quadrupled the city’s population and strained resources in what was already the poorest sector of Gaza, Lazzarini told reporters after his address.

“Every time I go back (to Gaza), I always think it cannot get worse, but every time I see more misery, more grief, more sadness, and have the feeling that Gaza is not really a habitable place any more,” the UN official said.

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, 18,787 Palestinians have been killed and more than 50,897 wounded in Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza starting on October 7. Palestinian and international estimates say that the majority of those killed and wounded are women and children.

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