UN Chief: Gaza in Need of Urgent Assistance to Cope with COVID-19 Pandemic

UN Chief: Gaza in Need of Urgent Assistance to Cope with COVID-19 Pandemic

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed concern over the alarming situation in the besieged Gaza Strip in light of the propagation of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Speaking with AlJazeera Channel on Wednesday, Guterres said urgent action should be made to help Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip counter the deadly virus.

Guterres said the United Nations is pleading for $2bn in international humanitarian aid to tackle the coronavirus pandemic in poorer countries.

He said COVID-19 was threatening the whole of humanity and "the only war necessary today is the war against the coronavirus".

The secretary-general stressed the needs of vulnerable people living in slums and refugee camps around the world.

"There are dramatic humanitarian needs for these people even without this pandemic. But now, with COVID-19, we need to do everything possible to prevent the disease from coming to these areas," Guterres told James Bays, Al Jazeera's diplomatic editor.

"It is very difficult for these people to be living in self-isolation. There, households often don't have water, no soap, and healthcare facilities are extremely rudimentary. So we need to boost the response capacity in those areas," Guterres said.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 84 Palestinians tested positive for COVID-19, including nine cases in the Gaza enclave.

Last week, activists raised concerns over an imminent coronavirus outbreak in the besieged Gaza Strip and its refugee camps after a number of returnees were allowed access into the enclave through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The concerns coincided with calls launched by human rights groups in the Gaza Strip urging the Israeli occupation authorities to allow the entry of medical supplies needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic into the besieged territory.

“If coronavirus arrives we will perish. I don’t think the health ministry has the capacity to deal with it because of the Israeli siege”, said a refugee.

According to data by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Gaza is one of the world's most densely populated areas, with more than 5,000 inhabitants per square kilometer. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the city of Oslo but is home to three times as many people. The population is expected to rise to 2.1 million by 2020.

A 2012 UN report predicted the Palestinian enclave would be “unlivable” by 2020 if nothing was done to ease the blockade, but in June 2017 a UN report on living conditions in Gaza stated that all the indicators were going in the wrong direction and that deadline was actually approaching even faster than earlier predicted.

Gaza is described by many Palestinians and humanitarian actors as the world’s largest open-air prison, where nearly 2 million Palestinians live behind a blockade and are refused access to the other occupied Palestinian areas and the rest of the world.

NRC said 7 out of 10 Palestinians in Gaza are registered as refugees, and many of these come from families who were forced to leave their villages in 1948. Many have also been forced to leave their homes due to war, violence, and economic hardship.

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