UN aid chief says Gaza relief work 'unplannable'

Imports of aid through southern Gaza completely halted as fresh fighting adds to distribution challenges

By Reuters

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Palestinian children carrying pots wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen, amid shortages of aid supplies, after Israeli forces launched a ground and air operation in the eastern part of Rafah on May 8. — Photo: Reuters file
Palestinian children carrying pots wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen, amid shortages of aid supplies, after Israeli forces launched a ground and air operation in the eastern part of Rafah on May 8. — Photo: Reuters file

Published: Thu 16 May 2024, 9:25 PM

The UN aid chief warned on Thursday that famine was an immediate risk in Gaza with food stocks running out, describing fresh challenges since the start of Israel's Rafah operation that made planning and distributing relief almost impossible.

As Israel has pounded southern Gaza, some 600,000 people or about half of the uprooted population sheltering there have fled to other areas of the besieged enclave, sometimes returning to bombed-out houses or empty fields.


Martin Griffiths said the global body was struggling to help them, with imports of aid all but halted through southern Gaza and fresh fighting adding to distribution challenges.

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"Stocks of food which were in place already in southern Gaza are running out. I think we're talking about almost none left," Griffiths told Reuters in an interview in Geneva.

"And so the humanitarian operation is stuck, it's completely stuck. We can't do what we want to do," he said, calling the relief operation "unplannable".

Israel's military says its operation in Rafah is meant to kill Hamas fighters and dismantle infrastructure used by the group, which governs the blockaded Palestinian territory. Israel accuses Hamas of diverting aid, something the group denies.

Griffiths had previously warned that a military operation in Rafah would be deadly and put the UN's fragile humanitarian operation "at death's door".

"What I think is so deeply, deeply tragic is that all the predictions that so many people, including us, but so many other member states and society have made about the consequences of an operation in Rafah are coming true," he said.

People who had moved to areas such as Al Mawasi had no food or water and tents had run out, he added. "What is the hope for these people? They don't know what's coming next."

Aid officials have repeatedly warned of famine in the seven-month conflict, though their fears ebbed slightly in April as Israel ceded to international pressure to boost supplies.

A worker clears humanitarian aid supplies spilled from damaged trucks on the Israeli side of the Tarqumiyah crossing with the occupied West Bank after they were vandalised by Israeli settlers. — Photo: AFP file
A worker clears humanitarian aid supplies spilled from damaged trucks on the Israeli side of the Tarqumiyah crossing with the occupied West Bank after they were vandalised by Israeli settlers. — Photo: AFP file

Israel says UN agencies are to blame for not distributing aid more efficiently within the enclave, creating backlogs of supplies.

Asked about the current risk of famine, Griffiths said: "I think it's an immediate, clear and present danger because of the facts on the ground tell us we don't need to be scientists to see the consequence of the removal of food."

Griffiths, a British former diplomat who has also worked as a conflict mediator, is set to step down next month for health reasons after three years as the head of the UN's humanitarian branch which manages a multi-billion-dollar relief budget.

Griffiths voiced concern for the future given the high number of conflicts in what he described as an "angry world".

"It has never been as bad as this," he said.

"I'm very worried, I think that it's a world which has lost its way and we need to help find its way back to those norms that we all lived to create," he said.

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