Dire humanitarian situation in Gaza deteriorating daily

UN says hunger-related deaths increasing as World Food Programme forced to pause aid deliveries

Gaza’s dire humanitarian situation deteriorates daily while negotiations for a temporary ceasefire may not bear fruit until March. The flow of life-giving humanitarian aid has diminished dramatically due to intense hostilities between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters, limitations on the entry and delivery of supplies, and growing insecurity.

Aid agencies report that families consume wild herbs and bread made with animal feed, and limit meals to one a day. In northern Gaza, malnutrition is rife among children and pregnant and breast-feeding mothers. Although hunger-related deaths are increasing, the World Food Programme has paused aid deliveries due to insecurity and Israeli denial of access to 39 out of 77 convoys, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

It said an average of only 62 lorries have entered Gaza daily over the past two weeks instead of the 200 that Israel has agreed can enter Gaza. Before the war, 500 lorries loaded with essential and commercial goods reached Gaza daily through Israel’s Kerem Shalom goods crossing.

Israel has not only limited the volume of aid but Israeli inspections slow entry through the Egyptian crossing at Rafah and recently reopened Kerem Shalom.


Recently, Israeli protesters have tried to halt aid by blockading Kerem Shalom and Ashdod port where supplies are imported for Unrwa, the agency providing for 2.3 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza.

Driven by hunger, people have looted aid lorries, food warehouses and abandoned homes. They have been joined by organised gangs, according to the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz. Uniformed and armed Palestinian police officers no longer protect aid trucks because they have been targeted by the Israeli army. Unarmed, plainclothes police cannot deter looters, Haaretz said.

Israeli television and print media have reported Israeli troops have contributed to lawlessness in occupied areas by looting Palestinian homes of phones, jewellery, food, carpets, furniture, and trophies and then boast to family and friends and on social media. Amid accusations that the military has ignored looting, Israeli military advocate general Major-General Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi on Wednesday castigated the “destruction of civilian property” and “looting” as well as “unjustified use of force”.

Unrwa chief Philippe Lazzarini on Thursday warned the UN General Assembly that the agency’s mandate “is now seriously threatened”.

In a letter, he wrote: “In just over four months in Gaza, there have been more children, more medical personnel and more UN staff killed than anywhere in the world in a conflict.” He said suspension of $450 million in contributions from 16 donor countries meant that the agency would be unable to provide services beyond March to a total of 5.7 million Palestinian refugees in the region.

Suspending countries acted on Israeli claims that 12 Unrwa staff participated in the October attack on Israel during which Hamas killed 1,139 and abducted 240 although Mr Lazzarini promptly fired the accused without receiving evidence.

He urged the assembly to provide political support for Unrwa operations and called for funding from the UN budget which would end agency reliance on voluntary donations which “make it vulnerable to wider political considerations”.

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Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times