Wed, Jan 21, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Billions of dollars needed to rebuild Gaza, UN says

DESTRUCTION The UN humanitarian chief said that while it remained unclear who actually won the conflict, what was clear was that civilians were on the losing side


A Palestinian woman guards her belongings on the rubble of her home in the flattened neighorbood of Ezbet Abdrabbo in the Jabalia refugee camp north of Gaza City yesterday. Tension eased in Gaza early yesterday as a fragile ceasefire entered its third day.


Hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid will be needed immediately to help Gaza’s 1.4 million people, and billions of dollars will be required to rebuild its shattered buildings and infrastructure, the UN humanitarian chief said on Monday.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said some neighborhoods have been almost totally destroyed and many homes have been reduced to rubble.

Sewage is flowing in some streets, there are huge medical and food needs, and unexploded ordnance is posing a big problem, he said.

While 100,000 people had their running water restored on Sunday, 400,000 still have no water, electricity is available for less than half the day, and 100,000 people are displaced from their homes, Holmes said.

“It may not be very clear who actually won this conflict, if such a concept means anything in Gaza, but I think it’s pretty clear who lost and that was the civilian population of Gaza, and to a much lesser extent the civilian population of southern Israel,” Holmes told reporters at UN headquarters.

According to the latest casualty figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, he said, 1,314 people died in Gaza, including 416 children and 106 women, and 5,320 were injured, including 1,855 children and 795 women — compared with nine Israeli soldiers and four Israeli civilians killed, and 84 Israeli civilians injured.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a press conference in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, on Sunday that he was sending a UN team to assess the humanitarian needs and wanted a report in 10 days so that the UN could issue an emergency appeal for funds. Ban said that within three weeks he wants an assessment and early recovery projects and essential repairs.

Speaking to reporters at UN headquarters, Holmes said UN staff in Gaza are already trying “to find out as much as they can about how great the damage is and how great the needs are.”

He said additional UN personnel would be joining them, and he hoped to be in Gaza later this week and contribute to the assessment process.

Asked to estimate the costs, Holmes said he couldn’t give exact figures until the assessments are completed.

“I think on the purely humanitarian and early recovery side ... it will be hundreds of million of dollars,” he said, “and no doubt the overall reconstruction costs will be numbered in billions of dollars, but I wouldn’t want to put a figure on it beyond that.”

He welcomed a US$1 billion pledge to Gaza’s reconstruction from Saudi Arabia.

Holmes stressed, however, that to successfully rebuild Gaza, the current “temporary and fragile cease-fire” must be transformed into a permanent and durable truce, with all border crossings opened to allow full access for humanitarian staff and to revive the economy.

A fragile ceasefire in Gaza held for a second night as Israel withdrew more troops and was expected to complete its pullout by yesterday afternoon.

No rockets landed in Israel during the night and Israel carried out no retaliatory attacks, a military spokesman in Tel Aviv said, saying the last rocket was fired from Gaza at around 5pm on Sunday.

“We are continuing with the gradual withdrawal,” the spokesman said, adding that some forces still remained in the strip.

Most reserve soldiers called up for the three-week campaign in Gaza, aimed at curbing rocket and mortar attacks from the strip, were expected to be released yesterday.

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