‘Clock is Ticking towards Looming Famine’ in Gaza – UNRWA Reacts to US, Western Sanctions

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini meets with displaced people in southern Gaza. (Photo: Mohamed Hinnawi, via UNRWA)

By Palestine Chronicle Staff  

UNRWA Commissioner General, Philippe Lazzarini, has warned of the serious implications of sanctioning the entire population of Gaza because of the allegations against a few individuals within the organization. 

Nearly a dozen Western countries have suspended funding to the UN relief agency after Israel alleged some of its employees were involved in the October 7 operation carried out by the Palestinian Resistance.  

“It is shocking to see a suspension of funds to the Agency in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff, especially given the immediate action that UNRWA took by terminating their contracts and asking for a transparent independent investigation,” Lazzarini said in a statement on Saturday.  

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“The United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the highest investigative authority in the UN system, has already been seized of this very serious matter,” he added.  

The Commissioner-General explained that UNRWA is the primary humanitarian agency in Gaza, “with over 2 million people depending on it for their sheer survival.”  

“Many are hungry as the clock is ticking towards a looming famine,” he warned. 

The agency runs shelters for over 1 million people and provides food and primary health care even at the height of the hostilities, Lazzarini continued. 

ICJ Ruling on Humanitarian Assistance 

On Friday, the International Court of Justice ordered that “Israel must take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”, he explained. 

“These measures are aimed at preventing irreparable damage to the rights of Palestinians,” Lazzarini said.  “The only way that this can be done is through cooperation with international partners, especially UNRWA as the largest humanitarian actor in Gaza.” 

He stressed that “some 3,000 core staff out of 13,000 in Gaza continue to report to work, giving their communities a lifeline which can collapse anytime now due to lack of funding.  

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Lazzarini warned, “It would be immensely irresponsible to sanction an Agency and an entire community it serves because of allegations of criminal acts against some individuals, especially at a time of war, displacement and political crises in the region.” 

He further stressed that UNRWA shares the list of all its staff with host countries every year, including Israel. 

“The Agency never received any concerns on specific staff members,” he said.  

“Meanwhile, an investigation by OIOS into the heinous allegations will establish the facts. Moreover, as I announced on 17 January, an independent review by external experts will help UNRWA strengthen its framework for the strict adherence of all staff to the humanitarian principles. ” 

Countries Urged to Reconsider Suspension

The UNRWA official urged countries who have suspended their funding “to re-consider their decisions before UNRWA is forced to suspend its humanitarian response.” 

“The lives of people in Gaza depend on this support and so does regional stability,” he said.   

Gazans now make up 80 percent of all people facing famine or catastrophic hunger worldwide, marking an unparalleled humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip amid Israel’s continued bombardment and siege, according to UN human rights experts.

War on Gaza Refugees – Germany, UK, among Others, Suspend Funds to UNRWA

“Currently every single person in Gaza is hungry, a quarter of the population are starving and struggling to find food and drinkable water, and famine is imminent,” the experts said in a statement. 

In addition all children under five – 335,000 – are at high risk of severe malnutrition, the statement said. 

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, 26,422 Palestinians have been killed, and 65,087 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.

(The Palestine Chronicle)

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