Gazans on verge of famine need ‘exponential’ aid boost, says UN


UN aid officials welcomed the news on Tuesday that an aid ship had left Cyprus for Gaza carrying 200 tonnes of relief supplies but stressed that it was “not a substitute” for overland assistance to Gazans on the verge of famine.

“Any food and other emergency aid that comes into Gaza, as we all know, is desperately needed; there is no question about it,” said Jens Laerke, spokesperson for UN aid coordination office, OCHA

“So it's highly appreciated…But it's not a substitute for the overland transport of food and other emergency aid into Gaza and particularly northern Gaza. It cannot make up for that.”

Maritime relief trial 

The UN official’s comments came as the international charity World Central Kitchen announced that its vessel, Open Arms, had set sail for Gaza, some 200 nautical miles away, transporting around 200 tonnes of food. “The people of the North will be fed!” it said in a tweet on X, formerly Twitter.

The NGO has already worked with UN aid teams in Rafah in southern Gaza, where some 1.5 million have sought shelter amid daily Israeli bombardment and fighting for the last five months, prompted by Hamas-led terror attacks in Israel that left some 1,200 dead and more than 250 taken hostage.

Children’s scissors denied

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Underscoring the dire humanitarian emergency still unfolding in Gaza, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, condemned the refusal to allow so-called “dual-use” items destined for the enclave.

“A truck loaded with aid has just been turned back because it had scissors used in children’s medical kits,” tweeted Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA Commissioner-General on Tuesday.

“Medical scissors are now added to a long list of banned items the Israeli Authorities classify as ‘for dual use’. The list includes basic and lifesaving items: from anaesthetics, solar lights, oxygen cylinders and ventilators, to water cleaning tablets, cancer medicines and maternity kits. 

“The clearance of humanitarian supplies and the delivery of basic and critical items need to be facilitated and accelerated. The lives of two million people depend on that, there is no time to waste.”

All options

Asked by journalists in Geneva if the UN might use the new maritime corridor between the southern port of Larnaca in Cyprus and Gaza, OCHA’s Mr. Laerke replied that “any and all entry points into Gaza should be looked at”.

But following repeated refusals by Israeli authorities to allow humanitarian convoys to access the north and unsafe conditions for aid teams, the UN official insisted that “we need the overland access and the safe and secure and regular delivery within Gaza as well”.

Famine ‘imminent’

In a related development, UN World Food Programme chief Cindy McCain warned on Monday that famine is “imminent” in Gaza and will only be avoided if humanitarian there increases “exponentially”.

Speaking in Rome, the WFP Executive Director underlined grave concerns for people “across Gaza, particularly the north, which is in the grip for humanitarian catastrophe.

“If we do not exponentially increase the size of aid going into the northern areas, famine is imminent. It's imminent.”

The veteran aid official explained that WFP had been forced to pause aid deliveries to the north on 20 February 20 owing to concerns “for the safety of our staff and due to the complete breakdown of law and order”.

The UN agency head insisted that all options were being explored to alleviate the hunger crisis in northern Gaza, including air drops, but “they will never deliver the necessary volume that road access can”. 

Road access “and the use of existing ports and crossings is the only way to get aid into Gaza at the scale that is now required,” the WFP chief insisted. "We need 300 trucks of food entering Gaza every single day."

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