WHO says only more land crossings into Gaza can prevent famine

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 10:36 AM

GENEVA (Reuters) – The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday that only an expansion of land crossings into Gaza could help prevent famine in the densely populated Palestinian enclave.

Children are dying from the effects of malnutrition and disease, and from a lack of adequate water and sanitation, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“The future of an entire generation is in serious peril,” he said.

Five months of war have created critical food shortages among Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians that in some areas now exceed famine levels, according to the United Nations.

“Recent efforts to deliver food by air and sea are welcome, but only the expansion of land crossings will enable large scale deliveries to prevent famine,” Tedros said.

“Once again, we ask Israel to open more crossings and accelerate the entry and delivery of water, food, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid into and within Gaza.”

U.N. aid agencies have said “overwhelming obstacles” to moving aid to the north of Gaza will only be overcome with a ceasefire and the opening of border crossings closed by Israel after Hamas launched their assault on Oct. 7.

Tedros said WHO requests to deliver supplies to the enclave were often blocked or refused.

Israel says it puts no limit on humanitarian aid for Gaza and blames slow aid delivery on a lack of capacity or inefficiency among U.N. agencies.

Most aid that comes into Gaza by land is cleared by Israel at Kerem Shalom, a customs station at the border point between Egypt, Israel and Gaza and then brought in through the southern city of Rafah, the main passenger crossing point between Egypt and Gaza.

After allowing six aid trucks into northern Gaza through a crossing in the security fence last week, Israel said more such convoys would follow as well as deliveries from other entry points.

Israel’s offensive on Thursday focused on the Al Shifa hospital, the only partially working medical facility in the north of the Gaza Strip, for a fourth day. Tedros said the WHO was particularly concerned about the military operations inside and around the facility.

“A planned mission to Al Shifa today had to be cancelled due to lack of security … Once again, we call for health care to be protected and not militarised.”

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Geneva, Manas Mishra, Unnamalai L in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alison Williams)