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Amid UNWRA funding crisis, desperate Gazans scour trucks for food

Palestinians queue for food in the rain at a shelter in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza.
Palestinians queue for food in the rain at a shelter in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza.

Amid UNWRA funding crisis, desperate Gazans scour trucks for food

Humanitarian Aid

As the UN chief prepares to meet representatives from countries who donate to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) late on Tuesday following allegations of collusion with Hamas, the UN health agency, WHO, reiterated that now was not the time to abandon the people of Gaza.

Despite ongoing Israeli bombardment prompted by Hamas-led attacks on 7 October that left some 1,200 dead in Israel and more than 250 taken hostage, UNRWA continues to provide lifesaving aid in Gaza to more than two million civilians.

The war has killed at least 26,637 Palestinians in Gaza and left 65,387 injured, according to the enclave's health authorities. The Israeli military has reported 218 soldiers killed and 1,267 injured in Gaza.

As the largest humanitarian agency in the enclave, UNRWA also operates shelters for over one million people, providing food, water and healthcare services, while also playing the key role of facilitating the work of other UN and partner agencies there.

The shelters, the health centres and everything else is provided in Gaza through UNWRA,” said Christian Lindmeier, spokesperson for the UN World Health Organization (WHO). Repeating the words of WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Mr. Lindmeier appealed to donors not to suspend funding to UNWRA “at this critical moment. Cutting off funding will only hurt the people of Gaza who desperately need support.”

The United States said on Friday it had suspended funding in response to allegations made against 12 UNRWA staffers who Israel says took part in the 7 October attacks. A full and urgent investigation is underway and some of the staff allegedly involved have been dismissed by the agency. 

Famine threat persists

Despite the efforts of the UN agency and other humanitarian partners operating in Gaza, many people are on the verge of famine after more nearly four months of war. 

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Some have resorted to scouring aid convoys for food and supplies, including one on Tuesday morning in the southern city of Khan Younis.

“We had a convoy just this morning trying to reach Nasser Hospital with patients, healthcare staff, everybody there needing food, but the very needy population already before basically took the supplies,” Mr. Lindmeier said.

The incident – far from a rare occurrence – “shows how dire the needs are”, he told journalists in Geneva, warning that disease among Gaza’s malnourished population “can just spread like wildfire and that’s on top of the bombing and the shelling and the collapsing buildings”.

Within Nasser Hospital itself, the WHO official reported that the situation “has only gotten worse", with "the shooting, the fighting…the difficulty of access for people to reach Nasser or the difficulty of leaving”.

Uprooted again

The development came as UN aid coordination office OCHA warned that more people had been uprooted from their homes amid ongoing fighting and evacuation orders from the Israeli military.

“We're in the midst of another wave of displacement in #Gaza, following eviction orders for large residential areas and amid intense hostilities,” OCHA said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “More people are killed or injured. The south is overcrowded and humanitarian access to the north is extremely limited.”