UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell briefs UN Security Council on humanitarian situation in Gaza (as delivered)

31 October 2023

Excellencies, 

Thank you to Ambassador Nusseibeh and Ambassador França Danese for convening this meeting, and to Members of the Security Council, for this opportunity to speak with you about the humanitarian situation in the State of Palestine and Israel. 

At UNICEF, we firmly believe that the true cost of this latest escalation will be measured in children’s lives – those lost to the violence and those forever changed by it.

After little more than three weeks, the devastating tally is quickly adding up, with rampant grave violations being committed against children. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, more than 8,300 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including over 3,400 children, with over 6,300 children injured. This means that more than 420 children are being killed or injured in Gaza every day – a number which should shake each of us to our core. 

Of course, the violence being perpetrated against children extends beyond the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, at least 37 children have reportedly been killed. And of course more than 30 Israeli children have reportedly been killed, while at least 20 remain hostage in the Gaza Strip – their fates unknown. 

Civilian infrastructure has also come under fierce attack.

According to the World Health Organization in Gaza, 34 attacks have been reported against health care facilities, including 21 hospitals. Twelve of Gaza’s 35 hospitals – which are also being used as shelters for displaced people – can no longer function.

At least 221 schools and more than 177,000 housing units have been damaged or destroyed.

Meanwhile, what little clean water remains in Gaza is quickly running out, leaving more than 2 million people in dire need. We estimate that 55 per cent of the water supply infrastructure requires repair or rehabilitation. Only one desalination plant is operating at just 5 per cent capacity, while all six of Gaza’s water-waste treatment plants are now non-operational due to a lack of fuel or power.

The lack of clean water and safe sanitation is on the verge of becoming a catastrophe. Unless access to clean water is urgently restored, more civilians will fall ill or die from dehydration or waterborne diseases.

As if this wasn’t enough, children in both Israel and the State of Palestine are experiencing terrible trauma – the consequences of which could last a lifetime. 

Studies have shown that violence and upheaval can induce toxic stress in children that interferes with their physical and cognitive development, and causes mental health problems over both the short and the long term.

We are doing our best to reach all children in need, but the delivery of humanitarian aid – especially in Gaza – is now extremely challenging. This is due to both the current siege conditions imposed on Gaza, and the highly dangerous circumstances under which our staff are operating.

Some of our staff have lost close family members, including spouses and children.

And of course we are grieving with UNRWA, with their staff members who have been killed.

Two days ago, we lost contact with our colleagues in Gaza when telecommunications went down. This left them at even greater risk, and it made their work to help children even harder to accomplish.

Excellencies, UNICEF and our partners are committed to staying on the ground to deliver for children. But make no mistake, the situation grows worse by the hour, and without an urgent end to the hostilities, I am deeply afraid for the fate of the region’s children. 

But we, and you, have the power to help lift children out of this spiral of violence. 

I implore the Security Council to immediately adopt a resolution that reminds parties of their obligations under international law, calls for a ceasefire, demands that parties allow safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, demands the immediate and safe release of all abducted children, and urges parties to afford children the special protection to which they are entitled.

The Security Council should also prioritize what is now a worsening displacement crisis – with more than 1.4 million people in Gaza, the majority of whom are children, now displaced.

As the Secretary-General has said, the order for 1.1 million Palestinian civilians to leave northern Gaza should be rescinded. Demands for hospital evacuations should also cease, given their protected status under international humanitarian law.

All parties must stop violence, and prevent any grave violations committed against children.

We must have humanitarian access through all crossings into the Gaza Strip, through safe and efficient supply routes. And parties must ensure the safe and unimpeded movement of humanitarian supplies and personnel throughout the Gaza Strip for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including -but not limited to- food, water, medicines, fuel, and electricity.

Finally, measures to prevent  electricity, food, water and fuel from entering Gaza from Israel must be immediately reversed, so that civilians can have access to the services they need to survive.

Excellencies … UNICEF was created almost 77 years ago out of the ashes of World War Two.  Our commitment to our mission has never wavered: we advocate for the rights of every child. 

On behalf of all the children caught in this nightmare, we call on the world to do better.  Whether they are young people attending a music festival, or children going about their daily lives in Gaza, they all deserve peace.  Children do not start conflicts, and they are powerless to stop them. They need all of us …to put their safety and security at the forefront of our efforts, and to imagine a future where children are healthy, safe, and education.  No child deserves any less.  

Thank you. 

Media contacts

Ammar Ammar
Regional Chief of Advocacy and Communication
UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office
Tel: 00962791837388
Salim Oweis
Communications Officer
UNICEF MENA
Tel: 00962799365212

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

Follow UNICEF on TwitterFacebook, Instagram and YouTube