Statement on UNRWA Gaza funding pause
Published on 31 January 2024 04:48 PM
Age International is deeply concerned that the UK Government, along with a number of other donor countries, has paused funding to the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) in Gaza.
UNRWA’s investigation into the alleged involvement of UN staff members in the October 7th attacks on Israel is necessary, but this suspension of funding will have a devastating impact on Palestinian civilians who have already been deprived of essential food, fuel, medical assistance, water, shelter, and protection for months. Over two million civilians, or 87 per cent of the population, rely on UNRWA as the largest humanitarian aid provider in Gaza. The UK Government and other donor countries have said they will not make any future commitments at this time. If funding is not resumed, UNRWA has said it would not be able to continue operations in Gaza, and across the region, beyond the end of February 2024.
The Government’s statement announced that “The UK is temporarily pausing any future funding of UNRWA whilst we review these concerning allegations. We remain committed to getting humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza who desperately need it.” The suspension of funding to UNRWA appears to contradict the commitment to get aid to people in Gaza.
Risks facing older people
Due to ongoing insecurity, attacks on aid convoys, destruction of facilities and civilian infrastructure, and the stoppage or limiting of communications, electricity, and fuel, it is extremely challenging to assess fully the needs of the population in Gaza, particularly in the north which is virtually cut off from support. However, based on the information coming out of Gaza and our partner HelpAge’s experience of working with older people in conflict settings, it is clear that older people are facing a particularly dire situation, with specific risks to their health and wellbeing.
Lack of health services
Of the 36 hospitals in Gaza only 14 are partially functioning. Just seven out of 24 hospitals remain open in northern Gaza. With medication in extremely short supply and health services severely disrupted, managing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and dementia, is a huge challenge. These types of health conditions have a disproportionate impact on older people. UNRWA plays a vital role in providing primary health care in extremely difficult circumstances and the suspension of funding from key donors will have severe consequences for those who need to access health services.
According to UN Special Rapporteurs, Gazans now make up 80 per cent of all people facing famine or catastrophic hunger worldwide. The latest Integrated Food Security and Nutrition Phase Classification (IPC) report found devastating levels of food insecurity in Gaza and confirmed that the entire population of Gaza – roughly 2.2 million people – are in crisis, or worse, levels of acute food insecurity. Malnutrition, or undernutrition, among older people is a recognised and challenging health concern that not only increases the risk of mortality and morbidity, but also leads to physical decline and poorer health outcomes. Older people, particularly those with disabilities, or older women, often face issues in accessing food assistance. It is not uncommon in crisis situations to see older people forgoing food to ensure their children and grandchildren eat, and in Gaza where the delivery of humanitarian assistance is already disrupted, this will be even more likely.
Today, Age International has written to MPs asking them to press the UK Government to:
- Reverse its pause on funding to UNRWA. This suspension contradicts the UK’s commitment “to getting humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza who desperately need it.”
- Play its part in urging all parties to the conflict to respect International Humanitarian Law, ensuring the safety of humanitarian workers and the protection of civilians.
- Call for the safe return of all hostages, and a full and immediate ceasefire so that humanitarian supplies can reach those most at risk.