The head of the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) warned Friday that hunger and disease are rapidly becoming a major issue in Gaza and said more aid was urgently needed in the enclave.
Philippe Lazzarini said current aid levels were “nothing more than crumbs,” and would make little difference for the more than 2 million people living in Gaza.
“Over the last week, I followed closely the focus about the number of trucks entering Gaza. Many of us saw in these trucks a glimmer of hope. This is, however, becoming a distraction,” Lazzarini said at a news conference in Jerusalem on Friday. “These show trucks are nothing more than crumbs that would not make a difference for the 2 million people [of Gaza].”
In addition to living in fear of Israeli airstrikes, Lazzarini said the people of Gaza were now facing the growing threat of hunger and disease.
“Food and water are running out. The streets of Gaza have started overflowing with sewage."
"Gaza is on the brink of a massive health hazard as the risks of diseases are looming,” he explained.
“The last remaining public services are collapsing, our aid operation is crumbling and for the first time ever, [our staff] report that people are now hungry.”
Aid efforts thus far had been woefully insufficient, he said.
"We should avoid conveying the message that few trucks a day means the siege is lifted for humanitarian aid. This is not true,” he said. “The current system in place is geared to fail. What is needed is meaningful and non-interrupted aid flow.”
“The siege means that food, water and fuel – basic commodities – are being used to collectively punish more than 2 million people among them a majority of children and women,” he added.
The head of UNRWA also criticized the questioning of where aid would end up if allowed into Gaza.
“It pains me that humanitarian aid, a very basic right for people, is constantly questioned while at the same time, despair is live-streamed under our watch,” he said, explaining that UNRWA has very strict mechanisms in place. “All our vendors and partners are vetted against the sanctions list. We give aid to those who need it most. Our convoys and their routes are notified and deconflicted.
“UNRWA does not and will not divert any humanitarian aid into the wrong hands,” he vowed, addressing Israel’s complaints that transfers into Gaza are often diverted by Hamas and put to military use.
Lazzarini reiterated his call for fuel to be allowed into Gaza so that basic services – bakeries, the water plant, hospitals – could continue to operate and so that UNRWA could continue its work.
“Over the last few days, UNRWA has drastically limited its consumption of fuel. This came at a cost. Our team had to make tough decisions that no humanitarian worker should do,” he said without detailing what those decisions had been. “A few days ago, I warned that we will not be able to continue our humanitarian operations if we do not get fuel supply. My warning still stands.”
Lazzarini also lamented deaths among UNRWA staff. According to the UNRWA Commissioner-General, 57 of the organization’s workers in Gaza have died since the war between Israel and Hamas started.
"They are mothers and fathers. Wonderful people who are dedicated their life to their communities. If they were not in Gaza, they could have been your neighbour," he said.
"One colleague died while on his way to pick up bread from a bakery. He left six children behind."