UN says it still faces obstacles in bid to fend off famine in Gaza

By Thomson Reuters Apr 16, 2024 | 4:51 PM

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations is still struggling to prevent famine in the Gaza Strip and while there had been some improvement in coordination with Israel, aid deliveries in the enclave still faced difficulties, a senior U.N. aid official said on Tuesday.

Andrea De Domenico, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said aid deliveries within Gaza were facing significant checkpoint delays and that last week 41% of U.N. requests to deliver aid to northern Gaza were denied.

“We’re dealing with this dance where we do one step forward, two steps backward, or two steps forward, one step backward, which leaves us basically always at the same point,” De Domenico told reporters.

“For every new opportunity that we’ve been given, we will find yet another challenge to deal with,” he said. “So it’s really, really difficult for us to scale up to where we would like to be.”

The U.N. has long complained of obstacles to getting aid in and distributing it throughout Gaza. But global outrage at the humanitarian crisis in the enclave of 2.3 million people escalated after Israeli airstrikes on April 1 killed World Central Kitchen aid workers.

Israel has since approved reopening the Erez crossing into northern Gaza and temporary use of Ashdod port in southern Israel after U.S. President Joe Biden demanded steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, saying conditions could be placed on U.S. support for Israel if it did not act.

“There has been a steady increase of the number of trucks that have entered,” said De Domenico, adding that the U.N. did not know how many private aid deliveries Israel had allowed into northern Gaza. But he said the focus also needed to be on improving aid access within Gaza.

“The problem is it’s not just about food. The problem is that famine is much more complex … it’s much bigger than simply bringing in flour,” he said. “Water, sanitation and health are fundamental to curb famine.”

U.S. officials have noted steady progress in the amount of aid that goes into Gaza, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday, but it was still not at the desired level and Washington was working to improve that.

Israel is retaliating against Hamas in Gaza over a deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel by the Palestinian militant group, saying they killed some 1,200 people and took more than 250 people hostage. Gaza health authorities say Israel has killed more than 33,000 people since.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols at United Nations; Editing by Matthew Lewis)