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Gazans ‘stalked by hunger, disease and death’, warns UN’s top aid official

Palestinians shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza.
Palestinians shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza.

Gazans ‘stalked by hunger, disease and death’, warns UN’s top aid official

Peace and Security

Amid further fighting across Gaza on Thursday, including reports of deadly airstrikes in the Rafah governorate, the UN’s top aid official, Martin Griffiths, echoed widespread international fears about a further escalation of the conflict.

“As the war in Gaza encroaches further into Rafah, I am extremely concerned about the safety and wellbeing of families which have endured the unthinkable in search of safety,” Mr. Griffiths said on X, formerly Twitter.

The veteran humanitarian official’s comments came as media reports indicated that Israeli airstrikes overnight into Thursday in Rafah left 14 dead, including five children. 

At the same time, the UN aid coordination office, OCHAreported that the Israeli military on Wednesday announced “a temporary and tactical suspension of military activities in the western neighbourhood of Rafah between 10am and 2pm for humanitarian purposes”.

Guterres two-State solution call

Condemning the spreading violence in Gaza, which is now into its fifth month, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told Member States on Wednesday that he was “especially alarmed by reports that the Israeli military intends to focus next on Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been squeezed in a desperate search for safety”.

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In a speech to Member States outlining his priorities for the year, the UN chief reiterated that “nothing justifies” Hamas’s “horrific terror attacks” against Israel on 7 October that sparked massive bombardment and a ground operation.

Only an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages” could help to bring about peace, along with “irreversible actions towards a two-State solution”, Mr. Guterres insisted.

Relief lifeline threat

Further hostilities in the Rafah governorate, where an estimated 1.4 million people now shelter, will very likely lead to the further loss of life, the aid community has warned.

“More than half Gaza’s population is crammed in Rafah, a town of originally 250,000 people right on Egypt’s doorstep,” said Mr. Griffiths, who is the UN’s emergency relief chief and head of UN aid coordination office, OCHA. “Their living conditions are abysmal; they lack the basic necessities to survive, stalked by hunger, disease and death.”

Highlighting the increasing hopelessness felt by millions of Gazans uprooted by the violence – and the frustration of aid teams trying to help them – Mr. Griffiths warned that any further spread of fighting could create even more obstacles to relief efforts already hobbled by Israeli forces’ repeated access restrictions and damaged infrastructure.

Famine risk confirmed again

The latest nutrition assessments carried out by humanitarians indicated that the risk of famine in Gaza is increasing by the day.

Issuing that warning, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) cited particular concerns “for an estimated 300,000 people in northern Gaza who have been predominantly cut off from assistance and where food security assessments show the greatest needs”.

Humanitarian aid reaching Gaza City in the north of the Strip is “not enough to prevent a famine”, WFP said, adding that “faster and sustained access” was urgently needed. The last time the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, was able to carry out a food distribution in the north of Wadi Gaza was on 23 January, according to OCHA’s latest situation update.