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UN coordinator — Global Issues

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On the heels of Israel’s announcement on Sunday that it would no longer approve aid shipments into northern Gaza by the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, UN Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick cautioned of current catastrophic food shortages and growing hunger across the enclave while offering swift solutions to averting a looming famine.

Any interruption to a food supply that’s already very fragile is a wrong move,” he told UN News.

“We’ve seen a 70 per cent decrease in people’s ability to sustain themselves,” he said, emphasizing that the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report issued last week showed an imminent famine and the deterioration of malnutrition rates, in the north in particular.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick (second left) visits the Kamal Adwan Hospital in the north of the Gaza Strip.

© UNOCHA

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick (second left) visits the Kamal Adwan Hospital in the north of the Gaza Strip.

Situation worsens in the north

Prior to the war, around 700 trucks delivered commercial and humanitarian goods into Gaza every day to serve the needs of the 2.3 million residents, but now 250 aid trucks enter Gaza “on a good day”, and in the north, the situation is worse, the UN Coordinator said.

“We are lucky getting 10 to 15 trucks in at any point in time over a two-day period,” he said. “We’ve had conversations with Israel to see if we can find a way to pass through this and to see if we can get the trucks we need every day into Gaza.”

Meanwhile, the trickle of aid entering the enclave has been handled by the main humanitarian actors – the World Food Programme (WFP), the non-governmental organisation World Central Kitchen and UNRWA – alongside such groups as the Catholic Relief Services, he said, but much more is needed to satisfy a population growing more hungry by the day.

A worker unloads ready-to-eat rations from a truck close to Alexandria, Egypt, in preparation for delivery to Gaza.

© WFP/Amira Moussa

A worker unloads ready-to-eat rations from a truck close to Alexandria, Egypt, in preparation for delivery to Gaza.

‘We can satisfy all the needs’

Israel’s scanning and inspection regime can only handle a daily maximum of 250 trucks, and right now only Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings are operating. Unless more corridors are opened, from Jordan to the Ashdod Port, “we are never going to get to 700 trucks” needed in Gaza daily.

“We can satisfy all the needs that are required there, but that means Israel has to allow those [entry points] to open up, and they also have to allow longer working hours in Kerem Shalom,” he said.

But, right now, it’s not a situation “we can see is going in the right direction”, he said, noting that the IPC famine report indicates that the current supply is not working.

We are not supplying enough to turn the corner on this,” he said. “We have to do more to do that.”

Ample aid urgently required

A sufficient volume of aid is needed now, he said.

“I don’t particularly care whose organisation brings the food; all I’m looking for is to make sure that we get more food than are currently getting in,” he said.

Since his weekly visits to Gaza began in December, including two to the north, he said conditions are “absolutely shocking”.

“I saw directly the impact of the lack of food supply on children in the Kamal Adwan Hospital” in northern Gaza, he said of last week’s visit, noting that the facility had recorded and reported 20 child deaths due to malnutrition. “I went to the children’s ward, and it’s absolutely shocking to see what’s there.”

Every single child had nutritional deficiencies, some with such complications as hepatitis A to intestinal infections, and there were not enough incubators for newborns in need, he said, adding that some young patients are being transferred to the south for care.

“One of the children I saw there, because the mother was so malnourished, the child was born two days earlier and was only about 1.2 kg in weight,” he recalled, saying the conditions are clear indications that food insecurity and malnourishment “is starting to hit that population very hard”.

‘Joint failure’ if famine alerts remain unheeded

Politics are the reason why humanitarian workers are not getting the cessation of hostilities required to be able to get more access and more lifesaving aid across the borders, he said.

But, he continued, there has been “ample warning given to everybody who’s watching this situation, and everybody’s watching it”.

The IPC famine report is a “wake-up call” showing that “if we don’t do it, it’s a flag of our joint responsibility and also a joint failure that we haven’t been able to get this done,” he stressed.

Threats of a Rafah incursion

As for southern Gaza, where more than 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering in Rafah, along Egypt’s border, he cautioned that “we are living a sort of hand-to-mouth existence.

“In the current context, unless there was a ceasefire, we can’t bulk up the support into Gaza the way we need it,” he said, noting that Israel’s threats of a large-scale military operation in Rafah could force almost one million people to move.

If there’s an incursion, it will break the back of our response,” he warned. “We cannot cope with that. There’s nowhere in the world you can cope with that number happening that quickly.”

Ceasefire is critical now

Ending hostilities now is critical alongside Israel lifting restrictions so enough aid can enter Gaza, he said.

If military activity stopped, the roads would be free and we can supply very, very fast throughout the south and clearly into the north as well,” he said.

The ceasefire is the most important thing we need right now to get that supply to all those people who we know are really struggling now.”

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