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UN urges radical change to aid relief access in Gaza amid fresh famine fears

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid prepare to cross into southern Gaza through Rafah
© UNICEF/Eyad El Baba
Trucks carrying humanitarian aid prepare to cross into southern Gaza through Rafah

UN urges radical change to aid relief access in Gaza amid fresh famine fears

Peace and Security

After more than 100 days of war in Gaza and no let-up in sight, senior UN humanitarians issued a rare joint appeal for greater aid access on Monday, expressing renewed fears of death due to famine and disease unless there is a “fundamental step change” in procedures. 

People in Gaza risk dying of hunger just miles from trucks filled with food,” said head of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Cindy McCain, in an appeal also backed by the heads of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN health agency WHO.

The UN and aid partners have been providing food to people inside Gaza every day since Israel implemented a near-total blockade on the enclave in response to the Hamas-led terror attacks in which some 1,200 people were butchered in southern Israel with approximately 250 taken hostage inside the enclave.

Humanitarian aid alone cannot meet the essential needs of the Gaza people,” the UN appeal noted, as Ms. McCain insisted that urgent action was needed to boost aid deliveries, where the entire population of Gaza relies on aid to survive.

No time to lose

“Every hour lost puts countless lives at risk,” the WFP Executive Director said. “We can keep famine at bay but only if we can deliver sufficient supplies and have safe access to everyone in need, wherever they are.”

On Thursday, WFP’s first food convoy to northern Gaza since the humanitarian pause late last November delivered food supplies for around 8,000 people.

In a statement outlining their requirements, the three UN agencies said that immediate action was required to:

  • Open new entry routes;
  • allow more trucks through border checks each day;
  • ensure fewer restrictions on the movement of humanitarian workers; 
  • guarantee the safety of people accessing and distributing aid.

Latest internationally recognised food insecurity assessments conducted in Gaza indicated that roughly 2.2 million people – were in crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity. 

Child wasting could affect 10,000

“Virtually all Palestinians in Gaza are skipping meals every day while many adults go hungry so children can eat,” WHO said, as UNICEF issued dire projections about the expected result of damaged essential water, sanitation and health infrastructure and services to treat severe malnutrition and disease outbreaks. 

Gaza’s 335,000 children under five years of age are “especially vulnerable”, UNICEF noted, before adding that in the next few weeks, child wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition in children, could increase from pre-crisis conditions by nearly 30 per cent, affecting up to 10,000 children.

“Children at high risk of dying from malnutrition and disease desperately need medical treatment, clean water and sanitation services, but the conditions on the ground do not allow us to safely reach children and families in need,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “Some of the material we desperately need to repair and increase water supply remain restricted from entering Gaza. The lives of children and their families are hanging in the balance. Every minute counts.”

Port opening call

In their appeal, the UN aid agencies stressed that they urgently needed Israeli authorization to use a working port close to the Gaza Strip and border crossing points into the north. 

"Access to Ashdod port, roughly 40 km to the north, would enable significantly larger quantities of aid to be shipped in and then trucked directly to the badly affected northern regions of Gaza, which few convoys have managed to reach," they said.

“The flow of aid has been a trickle in comparison to a sea of humanitarian needs,” said Phillipe Lazzarini, Commissioner General for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). “Humanitarian aid will not be enough to reverse the worsening hunger among the population. Commercial supplies are a must to allow the markets and private sector to re-open and provide an alternative to food accessibility.”

The agency heads also emphasized the urgent need to lift the barriers and restrictions on aid delivery to and within Gaza and for commercial traffic to resume. They reiterated the call for a humanitarian ceasefire to enable this vitally important roll-out of a massive, multi-agency humanitarian operation.

Strikes and clashes continue

In its latest humanitarian update late on Sunday, UN aid coordination office OCHA said civilians faced continuing Israeli bombardment across much of the enclave and fighting on the ground, amid renewed calls for the release of hostages.

OCHA also noted renewed rocket fire by militants into Israel, with 260 Palestinians reportedly killed and another 577 injured between 12 and 14 January.

The development came as new images released late Sunday showed three of the 250 hostages initially captured from southern Israeli communities in the Hamas-led attacks.

In an undated video message, all three prisoners pleaded for their safe return.

It is reportedly the first time the three abductees have been seen in nearly 100 days. More than 130 hostages are reportedly still being held by Hamas and other militants.