'Hundreds of millions' needed for Gaza aid, UN says

Hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid will be needed immediately to help Gaza's 1.4 million people and billions of dollars will be required to rebuild its shattered buildings and infrastructure, the UN humanitarian chief said.

John Holmes said some neighborhoods have been almost totally destroyed and many homes have been reduced to rubble. Sewage is flowing in some streets, there are huge medical and food needs, and unexploded ordnance is posing a big problem, he said.

While 100,000 people had their running water restored on Sunday, 400,000 still have no water, electricity is available for less than half the day, and 100,000 people are displaced from their homes, Holmes said.

"It may not be very clear who actually won this conflict, if such a concept means anything in Gaza, but I think it's pretty clear who lost and that was the civilian population of Gaza, and to a much lesser extent the civilian population of southern Israel," Holmes told reporters at UN headquarters.

According to the latest casualty figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, he said, 1,314 people died in Gaza, including 416 children and 106 women, and 5,320 were injured, including 1,855 children and 795 women - compared to nine Israeli soldiers and four Israeli civilians killed, and 84 Israeli civilians injured.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a press conference in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt on Sunday that he was sending a UN team to assess the humanitarian needs and wanted a report in 10 days so the UN can issue an emergency appeal for funds. Ban said that within three weeks, he wants an assessment and early recovery projects and essential repairs.

Speaking to reporters at UN headquarters, Holmes said UN staff in Gaza are already trying "to find out as much as they can about how great the damage is and how great the needs are." He said additional UN personnel will be joining them, and he hopes to be in Gaza later this week and contribute to the assessment process.

Asked to estimate the costs, Holmes said he couldn't give exact figures until the assessments are completed.

"I think on the purely humanitarian and early recovery side ... it will be hundreds of million of dollars," he said, "and no doubt the overall reconstruction costs will be numbered in billions of dollars, but I wouldn't want to put a figure on it beyond that."

He welcomed a $US1 ($NZ1.86) billion pledge to Gaza's reconstruction from Saudi Arabia.

Holmes stressed, however, that to successfully rebuild Gaza, the current "temporary and fragile cease-fire" must be transformed into a permanent and durable truce, with all border crossings opened to allow full access for humanitarian staff and to revive the economy.

"There've been promises from the Israeli authorities that there will be access, but that's not yet been fulfilled in terms of people actually getting through the crossing at Eretz, and that's something we will be continuing to peruse urgently with them," he said.

As for initial assessments since the temporary cease-fires, Holmes said, "a total of 50 UN facilities, by our calculation, have been damaged during the hostilities so we have a huge amount of reconstruction of our own." He said there is also "enormous strain on hospitals and medical facilities, not least because 21 medical facilities were damaged during the fighting." noting that Al-Quds Hospital, which was damaged by shelling several days ago, is still closed and other hospitals are only partly open because they were also hit.

John Ging, head of Gaza operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency which helps Palestinian refugees, told reporters by videolink from Gaza that about 20,000 people who had taken refuge at UN shelters were expected to stay in their own homes Monday night.

"This leaves us with well over 35,000 in our shelters tonight," he said.

"These shelters are schools, and this will be an urgent priority for us to deal with so that we can resume our education program."

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