17 November 2023
Under-Secretary-General Martin Griffiths, representing the Secretary-General.
Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,
UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner,
High Commissioner Volker Türk,
Distinguished Representatives of other UN entities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Anyone who has been following recent developments in the wake of the attack on October 7 would come to the inescapable conclusion that the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has been deteriorating at an alarming rate.
The human toll of the siege in Gaza has been unspeakable.
Tens of thousands of innocent human beings exhibiting the same general characteristics as us have reportedly been lost– two thirds of whom are painfully understood to be women and children.
Beyond the tragic fatalities, the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and other affected areas have been upended.
Over 27,500 people have been injured, – not to mention the psychological trauma suffered by those trapped in the situation.
More than half of the population of Gaza – an estimated 1.6 million people – have been displaced, as homes and entire neighbourhoods, as well critical infrastructure have been destroyed or rendered unsafe for occupancy.
The casualties reach far and wide, as one hundred and two of our own UN staff working for UNRWA have also lost their lives. We grieve their loss, even as we grieve countless unknown civilians, who have succumbed to the violence.
These humanitarian workers made the ultimate sacrifice to honour the defining values and principles of the United Nations and remind us of the danger of indiscriminate counteraction, even if taken in self-defence.
To the families of the deceased in Israel and in the State of Palestine, I extend my most sincere, most heartfelt, condolences.
To the injured, especially the children, I ask them to stay strong, assuring them that we are working tirelessly to ensure the delivery of the assistance they require.
Worryingly, we may never know the precise number of casualties, but one thing is indisputable: Thousands have needlessly perished and the humanitarian situation in Gaza and other affected areas amounts to an utter humanitarian disaster that shows no signs of abatement in the short term.
For all foregoing reasons, my call today is exactly as it was on and before the 26th of October: we need a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza now.
And this appeal is not mine alone – it is the resonating call of the larger membership of the General Assembly itself.
We need safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, now.
We demand that Hamas unconditionally return the hostages taken, now.
And we demand that the combatants act in full compliance with international law – including the laws of war, at all times, and in all circumstances.
Against this sobering background, today we gather for the sole purpose of receiving reports from relevant UN entities that are engaged on the ground to ameliorate the crisis unfolding before our very eyes;
Those who have made it their unwavering call to alleviate the human suffering we are all seeing live streamed – by delivering essential humanitarian aid and care in an environment that can aptly be described as impossible.
Recognizing the immense sensitivity and emotional intensity attending this conflict, I urge you to use this meeting today to focus on the pressing humanitarian situation at hand.
Our primary objective is to ascertain the actual gravity of the situation as a prelude to bringing relief to Gaza and other affected areas.
I have received numerous questions from the public through my ASKPGA platform – the vast majority of which address peace and security issues, including the situation in the Middle East.
This issue is front and centre on everyone’s mind, and they are looking to us – the United Nations – not just for answers, but for credible answers, and for action.
This is not the time for any further bloodletting, nor even for politics.
This is the time to act in accordance with the very principles this institution was founded to promote, that is, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”.
The people of Gaza and other affected areas desperately need lifesaving humanitarian relief, and our singular focus must be on that issue.
In this regard, UNWRA – which is represented here today – has warned that its “entire operation is now on the verge of collapse”.
This critical agency – which was already suffering from a million-dollar funding gap prior to the escalation of hostilities – is now facing the greatest crisis in its 64-year history.
The lack of water, food, fuel and basic medical supplies is causing a spiral of suffering.
With current supplies, UNRWA can only meet 39 per cent of Gazans’ food needs and one per cent of water, sanitation and hygiene needs in the shelters.
Water supplied through the received aid falls far short of the individual consumption requirements outlined in WHO standards. WHO is also present here today, to tell us more.
It is our understanding that since Wednesday, 70 per cent of Gazans no longer have access to clean water; highlighting the potential for contamination and disease outbreaks.
Indeed, the Organisation has declared that – with over half of Gaza’s hospitals having now closed – they have become “scenes of death, devastation and despair”, with some “ceasing to function as hospitals altogether”.
Let me be clear, I echo the recent statements by WHO and OCHA’s that: “Hospitals are not battlegrounds.”, nor are civilians and civilian infrastructure to be targeted for acts of war.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As the United Nations, we need to stand up and speak up for what is right and honourable.
And we need to implement the decisions and recommendations of the General Assembly.
Our motivation is the clear and unequivocal imperative to stop the bloodshed and to save human lives.
As I conclude, I urge all parties to carefully consider the future – and to focus on the only viable solution – namely, the two-state solution to create a secure and lasting peace in the Middle East, particularly for children – so many of whom have lost everything they have ever known, including families to raise them.
What awaits them in the days and weeks to come? Where will they find refuge? How will this traumatic period shape their lives? And more long-term, what will become of Gaza and its people?
It is imperative that we prioritize their safety, now, to secure a better future for them.
As it is for a shared future every child yearns for and deserves.
The pathway to achieving this is through sincere and solution-oriented dialogues conducted in good faith.
The Security Council resolution 2712 (of 2023) on the humanitarian situation in Gaza is a welcomed development and I encourage Member States to keep working in this positive and hopeful direction.
I thank you.