The United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People “was convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People at the United Nations Office at Vienna on 31 March and 1 April. The theme of the Seminar was “Speeding up relief, recovery and reconstruction in post-war Gaza”. The Seminar reviewed the pressing immediate and longer-term humanitarian and development needs in the Gaza Strip, and in particular, Gaza’s severe housing, fuel, power, environmental and water crises, which greatly intensified in the wake of the war of 2014. Some 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, while power cuts of up to 18 hours a day are commonplace. The Seminar aimed at strengthening cooperation between all parties involved in efforts towards Gaza’s reconstruction and economic development: the Palestinian Government, intergovernmental organizations, including the United Nations, key donors, as well as the private sector. It also strived to identify the obstacles to Gaza’s recovery and reconstruction.” This latter was a somewhat weird ‘objective’ as long as most, if not all of the participants had to be familiar with the obstacles.
I could participate on the Seminar only for the second day (see: FINAL PROGRAMME E). Looking at the photos posted on Unispal’s flickr-site the second day was much less crowded. It is hard to estimate but ca. 30-40 people showed up, not much more: 4-5 panelist (see: UN Seminar, participants, bios) in the morning and afternoon respectively, 5-6 at most 10 NGOs represented by one or more people, diplomats from Palestine and delegates from various countries, international organizations, perhaps a few journalists. The room looked huge and empty compared to the first day.
The morning panel was interesting (but not very interesting), esp. Geffrey Aronson’s lecture on considering an alternative maritime port and route between Gaza and Turkey (being similar to the trade route between Turkey and Jordan/SA via Haifa port and Israel’s territory). I guess, it is a much less easily feasible idea than the other route, but who knows… Israel definitely wants to exercise certain control over any (trade) activities between Gaza and the world, even if the Ashdod port could be left out of the game.
Shaddad Attili held a very ‘angry’, somewhat frustrated lecture on the slow (political) progress with – or decision-making on – large-scale desalination and other (technically possible) projects that could offer solution to the water scarcity in Gaza. His presentation was completed by that of Fuad Bateh, more on the technical side. They both emphasized/concluded that it is more or less a matter of political will to implement these projects (to build plants).
The other remarkable lecture was given by an Barbara Capone (Sunshine4Palestine). She introduced the existing technical-practical opportunities to provide sweet (drinkable??) water (and sustainable purification systems) to Gazan households on small-scale and on individual/household basis by gaining/utilizing humidity from the air. It was a bit technical, but probably to the closest to real needs on the ground.
My overall impression was that participants somehow lost their interest to the second day… and (trying not to be impolite) I was struggling to figure out the real purpose of such events.. Perhaps the high-profile participants could discuss the needs and priorities or others could establish relations in the coffee breaks, I do not know, after all I am really an outsider, just a researcher being not that much involved in the political bargaining processes. I was definitely happy that the conference was postponed and moved from Cairo to Vienna and I happen to have been there last week… so participation did not really cost me that much money… otherwise I would have been slightly disappointed, I think. Press releases may change these impressions: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4.