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UN agencies raise concerns about providing humanitarian aid in Gaza

A WFP distribution point in the Gaza Strip.
WFP/Eman Mohammed
A WFP distribution point in the Gaza Strip.

UN agencies raise concerns about providing humanitarian aid in Gaza

The United Nations food relief agency today raised concerns about its ability to reach people in Gaza if conditions worsen, while the UN health agency said medicines were already in short supply.

“Access to Gaza is a significant challenge under normal circumstances,” the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said in a news release on its activities in Gaza, where the population of 1.6 million – half of them children – continues to face an Israeli blockade imposed in 2007.

“WFP is concerned about access to people in the territory if conflict escalates and humanitarian needs increase,” it added.

The latest wave of violence between Israel and Gaza began on 14 November and has included rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza, and Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

As part of its regular monthly programme to help feed 285,000 vulnerable people throughout the Gaza Strip, WFP said it began on Tuesday to deliver food to 30,000 people at six sites in Gaza. It is also supplying wheat flour to bakeries so that free bread can be given to people who have seen their homes destroyed.

“On Tuesday, four trucks with WFP food stocks attempted to enter via the Karem Shalom crossing, but had to turn back due to rocket fire,” WFP said of a crossing on the Gaza Strip-Israel-Egypt border.

“The trucks were carrying 120 metric tons of food, enough to feed 5,600 people for a month,” the agency added, saying it was “critical to ensure this access point is open for humanitarian food and other supplies in the coming days.”

On the question of food distribution, WFP said it has sufficient supplies pre-positioned inside and outside Gaza to cover the needs of its usual caseload of 285,000 people for more than three months, according to its news release.

In addition, free bread baked with WFP-supplied wheat, as well as canned goods, will be given as emergency food assistance to some 350 families throughout Gaza – comprising around 2,100 people – in the coming days, for an “initial period” of 10 days, WFP said. Under its regular operations, WFP uses food vouchers, school meals and food rations to poor and food-insecure households who are affected by the on-going blockade, the agency said.

From its Geneva headquarters, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) today issued an appeal for $10 million to help restock medical supplies in Gaza, with the agency noting that the latest wave of violence had killed 132 people there, including 30 children and 11 women. Of 1,090 people injured, there are 381 children, 186 women and 83 seniors.

“The problem with the hospitals is not staff, (but) the shortage of supplies and drugs,” Dr. Mahmoud Daher, of the WHO office in Gaza, said in an interview with UN Radio.

He added, “More than 50 per cent of the essential drugs list is below one month consumption rate and, in such conditions, coping with (an) increasing number of casualties will be problematic, as has been seen in the past couple of days.”

At least one major health facility has been directly hit by a mortar shell, according to WHO, which also cited reports of damage to other treatment centres, as well as to ambulances.

“The Jordanian field hospital sustained damage in the medical wards as a missile penetrated the two roofs of the hospital,” said Dr. Daher. He also noted that more than 50 per cent of the violence-affected children were below the age of five.

Other UN agencies speaking out on Wednesday included the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Its chief condemned the killing of three Palestinian journalists in air strikes on 20 November, and voiced alarm over reports the violence had resulted in schools being hit both in Gaza and southern Israel.

“I am deeply concerned about the reported targeting of media facilities and personnel that have left three Palestinian journalists dead: Mahmoud Al-Komi, Hossam Salameh Mohammed and Abu Eisha,” said UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, according to a news release from the agency, which is mandated to defend press freedom and promote education,

“The civilian status of journalists and their right to carry out their professional duties should be respected,” she added.

Ms. Bokova said she was “equally alarmed” by the strikes on schools, saying they should “offer a safe environment for children,” and that “attacks against them (were) a denial of the right to education and should be firmly condemned.”

The UNESCO chief said she added her voice to that of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said on Tuesday, following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, that his “paramount immediate concern” was for the safety and well-being of all civilians.

Mr. Ban, who was in Ramallah in the West Bank today to meet with the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has been at the head of a cavalcade of UN officials appealing for an end to the current violence, and strongly urging the parties to achieve an immediate ceasefire.