Israel-Hamas war: Unrwa says it cannot deliver aid to Rafah due to Israeli offensive

Food supplies running out in central Gaza where 900,000 Palestinians have taken refuge in ‘safe zones’, says World Food Programme

Unrwa, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, has halted deliveries of aid to an estimated 500,000 Palestinians in the southern Gaza city of Rafah due to Israel’s offensive and disruption of supplies.

Unrwa says its distribution centre and a warehouse operated by World Food Programme (WFP) are inaccessible. No aid is entering Gaza at the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings in the south and Erez in the north. Only 50 lorries a day, 10 per cent of the pre-war number, reach the severely deprived north via the Erez west crossing.

The WFP said food supplies are running out in central Gaza where the UN has said 900,000 Gazans displaced from Rafah have taken refuge in Israeli-designated “safe zones” without shelters, water or medical facilities.

Before Israel’s May 6th offensive, 1.4 million people lived in Rafah. More than a million were displaced by fighting and ordered to move there from north and central Gaza by Israel’s military.


WFP spokeswoman Abeer Etefa told the Associated Press that humanitarian operations in Gaza were near collapse. If supplies did not resume entering Gaza “in massive quantities, famine-like conditions will spread”, she said. WFP director Cindy McCain said on May 4th there was “full blown famine” in the north of Gaza and it was “moving south”.

The $320 million floating pier built by the US to provide 90-150 lorry loads of supplies a day via the maritime humanitarian corridor from Cyprus has failed to deliver appreciable results. Ten lorry loads of aid entered Gaza when the pier began operating on May 17th, but on the 18th six of 11 trucks were looted by hungry Palestinians or Palestinian gangs selling aid. While deliveries have arrived since then, the WFP said distribution had been limited to a small number of high-energy biscuits and warned the US pier could fail unless Israel permits and protects deliveries.

The influx of newly displaced Gazans has deepened deterioration of water supplies. The US-based International Rescue Committee and British charity Medical Aid for Palestinians reported on the UN’s ReliefWeb information portal that some Palestinians were surviving “on just 3 per cent of the internationally recognised standard for water intake”. This amounts to less than half a litre instead of 15 litres daily for drinking, washing, cooking and cleaning.

The report said the “lack of clean water and sanitation facilities have significantly increased watery diarrhoea among children under five, [and] water-borne diseases such as hepatitis are proliferating among families”. Makeshift latrines serve 600 people while piles of refuse were “contaminating water resources and causing major health issues and disease outbreaks”.

World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the situation in Gaza remained “beyond catastrophic” as the last functioning hospitals in the north – Al-Awda and Kamal Adwan – risked closure.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

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