Gaza: Humanitarian Aid and Children — [Valerie Vaz in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 1:54 pm ar 8 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Llafur, Luton South 1:54, 8 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairship, Ms Vaz.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Apsana Begum on securing this really important debate on the last day before recess. We may not be many, but we are strong, as they say.

The horrors of recent months in Israel and Gaza have been intolerable, and there has been no let-up in the suffering in Gaza and no end to the cruel treatment of hostages. Millions of people are displaced, desperate and hungry. Thousands of my Luton South constituents have contacted me about the ongoing conflict, so I wanted to make sure that I added my voice to this important debate. I will echo many of the comments that have already been made.

Israel continues to use devastating tactics that have seen far too many innocent civilians and children killed. There have been unacceptable blocks on essential aid, with nowhere being safe for civilians. It is a humanitarian catastrophe, and now there are warnings of a deadly famine. Women, children and newborn babies bear the brunt of the violence in Gaza. Since the horrific attacks on 7 October, Israel’s devastating response has killed over 11,500 children in Gaza—one in every 100 children in the Gaza strip—and UNICEF has reported that 17,000 children have been left unaccompanied or separated from their families.

Many of my Luton South constituents, as well as non-governmental organisations such as Islamic Relief and Medical Aid for Palestinians, have highlighted the fact that, without an immediate and permanent ceasefire, the numbers dying of hunger, malnutrition, disease and unmet medical needs could far exceed those that have already been caused by the bombardment. Like many others, I have heard briefings from UK doctors who have regularly visited Palestine to carry out medical work, procedures and training. They are despairing that we will see children dying from preventable diseases and lack of simple medicines such as insulin for diabetes. That is terribly shocking.

Alongside the horrific physical impacts, Oxfam has reported that about 1 million children are in need of mental and psychosocial support. The deep trauma of Palestinian children will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Nearly all the children in the Gaza strip require mental health support. Many are presenting very challenging symptoms, including extremely high levels of persistent anxiety, with the responses to that such as not eating and being in despair.

While that is going on in Gaza, the worst hunger crisis and starvation are setting in; it is on the verge of being a famine. It has been reported that all children under five are at high risk of severe malnutrition, as that risk of famine conditions continues to increase. Other hon. Members mentioned hearing reports and receiving briefings from Islamic Relief staff in Gaza describing how desperate children are roaming the rubble-filled streets in search of any scraps of food that they might find.

Like others, I have heard first hand from doctors who have, sadly, had to do medical procedures in Gaza without anaesthetic, including the amputation of children’s arms and legs, because there is a critical shortage of drugs and medical supplies. We also hear about babies being born on the streets, and the umbilical cords being cut with whatever sharp object is to hand.

The constant, indiscriminate bombing, the debris, the electricity blackouts and the lack of fuel make it extremely dangerous to distribute any aid and make many parts of the Gaza strip inaccessible. As has been so well put by others, to meet the need for humanitarian aid, an estimated 800 trucks of aid would have to enter Gaza daily; since 7 October, however, the highest daily average has been two trucks. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse said, we really need to question whether this is a blockade and what that would actually amount to. I would welcome the Minister’s views on that issue.

Unfettered access for humanitarian aid is needed at scale to meet the desperate need of the children in Gaza. The UN Relief and Works Agency is the largest agency operating in Gaza: 80% of aid to the Gaza strip is delivered through it. I have asked questions about this issue. In response to my written question, the Foreign Office Minister of State, Mr Mitchell, said that the Government are

“pausing any future funding of UNRWA” while they review allegations of its staff being involved with Hamas. However, Channel 4 has reported on the document in which Israeli officials alleged that a dozen UNRWA employees were involved in the 7 October attack, led by Hamas. Channel 4 reported that the document

“provides no evidence to support its explosive new claim that UNRWA staff were involved”.

I would welcome an update from the Minister with regard to the Government’s position on the matter. If this key UN agency is not funded, how do they intend to fill the gap for humanitarian aid in Gaza?

I recognise that the Government have on many occasions expressed their commitment to ensuring that much-needed humanitarian aid and medical supplies reach Gaza for the many children in desperate need. Will the Minister provide information on the current position and on the Government’s long-term plans to support children in Gaza, many of whom are now orphaned and will be living with this trauma for the rest of their lives?