Reconstructing what was destroyed by the recent war on the Gaza Strip with the current blockade in place may take more than a decade so the siege must end, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl warned.
Krähenbühl’s remarks came during his first official visit to Switzerland where he met with the President of the Swiss Confederation and Head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Didier Burkhalter and Secretary of State Yves Rossier in addition to other senior officials in the Foreign Ministry and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
The UNRWA official also met with the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Swiss parliament.
According to a statement released by UNRWA, Krähenbühl said: “I wish to thank the government and people of Switzerland for their generous and unwavering support to UNRWA and the refugees we serve. The recent fighting in Gaza and the UNRWA response demonstrated once more how vital our services have become.”
“As the discussions intensify about the reconstruction of Gaza, it is becoming clear that UNRWA will be central to that effort. But let it not be forgotten that Swiss funds are supporting our services beyond Gaza, across the Middle East in war-torn Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the West Bank.”
During his stay in Bern, he also briefed senior Swiss officials on the work of UNRWA during the recent fighting in Gaza and the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
He said that at least 20,000 homes have been destroyed during the recent fighting in Gaza, and that there was widespread destruction of public infrastructure, adding that it was “an imperative for the international community and for the people of Gaza to reconstruct after the devastation”, which was unprecedented in recent history. But he warned that with the current blockade of Gaza in place, it could take over a decade to rebuild. Therefore, the blockade must be lifted.
Krähenbühl said: “I visited Gaza three times during the recent conflict and the impact of the fighting on individual human lives, particularly the young, is palpable and profound. Hundreds of thousands of children are deep in trauma. We estimate that of the 3,000 children injured, 1,000 will have disabilities for life.”
He pointed out that “several hundred UNRWA counsellors are working to restore a sense of normality. UNRWA will do all it can to restore human dignity to a community that has suffered enough.”
Krähenbühl expressed concern for the “more than 50,000 people” still living in UNRWA schools in Gaza because their homes had been destroyed. “We need to do all we can to find alternative accommodation for these people, as we are determined to begin our delayed school year on 14 September. It will be a challenge. We run 245 schools in 156 school buildings, many of which were damaged. We are giving an education to over 240,000 students in Gaza and we cannot put their education on hold. Education delayed is education denied,” he stressed.
Switzerland contribution to UNRWA for 2014 has amounted to more than 16 million Swiss francs ($17.4 million) making it the organisation’s eleventh largest donor.
The majority of these funds support UNRWA’s main services such as the education of half a million children and providing health care services to millions across the Middle East.