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Aid workers in Gaza are fighting for survival too

Aid trucks of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) deliver aid to Salah al-Din Street on the fourth day of Eid al-Adha in the east of Gaza City, Gaza on June 19, 2024.
Dawoud Abo Alkas
Anadolu via Getty Images
Aid trucks of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) deliver aid to Salah al-Din Street on the fourth day of Eid al-Adha in the east of Gaza City, Gaza on June 19, 2024.

Almost no aid is getting into Gaza right now.

It’s a harsh reality for all, including humanitarian workers trying to survive themselves while providing much-needed assistance in the coastal enclave devastated by eight months of war.

An aid worker with Mercy Corps, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, told NPR he was originally from the southernmost city of Rafah, but had to flee to Khan Younis, just to the north, three weeks ago because of worsening conditions. He said most of the children in Gaza are suffering from both malnutrition and dehydration — including his own children, who have contracted diseases caused by contaminated water.

“My little child had diarrhea, which caused dramatic weight loss,” he said. “My younger child is suffering from stomach pain and keeps throwing up.”

The doctors suspect the child has hepatitis.

Another aid worker in Gaza, who also asked for anonymity for security reasons, said he’s been on humanitarian missions for a decade, including in Sudan, Iraq and Ukraine. He told NPR that Gaza is the worst he’s ever seen. He said he drove past a massive encampment recently with a makeshift cemetery next door.

What haunted him, he added, was the seven or eight freshly dug holes, ready for the next civilians to die.

Alarm Bells

Humanitarian groups continue to sound alarm bells, as deliveries of aid have been stalled because of rising security concerns in the Gaza Strip.

The U.N. said it would suspend aid operations unless more is done to protect humanitarian workers.

Abeer Etefa, a spokesperson for the World Food Programme, said the Israeli military needs to make conditions safer for them because the operating environment across the region has become “almost impossible” in the last few weeks.

The ongoing tensions between the U.N., humanitarian organizations and Israel over the hurdles in distributing aid to Gazans come as a recent report from the U.N.-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) stated that 500,000 Palestinians are on the brink of starvation. The report additionally stated that 95% of the population is at “crisis” level or worse. The IPC also warned that a “high risk” of famine will only deepen “as long as conflict continues, and humanitarian access is restricted.”

The U.N. and humanitarian aid organizations have blamed Israel for delaying crucial deliveries of food and other items because of an onslaught of military attacks in southern Gaza, tedious checks on incoming aid deliveries, and lack of security that has harmed aid workers and killed others.

They also say that growing desperation has sparked a breakdown in law and order in the territory, with increased attacks by civilians on aid trucks and workers.

An aid worker who also requested anonymity for security reasons told NPR that Gazans have grown to distrust efforts to distribute aid. She said little aid is available, and if it is, they’re goods sold privately on the market “at exorbitant prices.”

“Everyone believes that there is manipulation in the distribution of aid,” she said. “No one around me receives any aid.”

Kate Phillips-Barrasso, vice president of Global Policy and Advocacy at Mercy Corps, said that the offensive that the Israeli military launched in Rafah in early May to attack remaining Hamas battalions in the city thwarted much needed aid from being delivered to Gazans.

“People are enduring subhuman conditions, resorting to desperate measures like boiling weeds, eating animal feed, and exchanging clothes for money to stave off hunger and keep their children alive,” she said.

A USAID spokesperson echoed some of those concerns, saying that more than 10,000 tons of aid are waiting to enter Gaza in the maritime corridor.

According to COGAT, the agency which implements government policy in the occupied West Bank and Gaza for the Israeli military, the content of more than 1,150 aid trucks stands waiting to be distributed from the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and 8,009 pallets at the U.S. floating pier’s offloading area. David Mencer, a spokesperson with the Israeli government, says that private organizations have been able to successfully deliver aid to the Palestinian people, while the U.N. has been “hapless” in its aid distribution efforts and Hamas is intentionally starving those in the Gaza Strip.

Aid groups say large shipments of aid during March and April into the strip helped ameliorate the threat of mass hunger in the spring, but that threat returned after Israel’s offensive in Rafah last month, that has collapsed much of the existing infrastructure for delivering aid.

The floating pier coordinated by the U.S. military, an effort costing more than $200 million to provide supplementary aid relief to Gazans, has largely failed its mission in the face of weather complications, administrative bottlenecks, delays and lootings.

Pentagon spokesperson Major General Pat Ryder said that as of May 17, the U.S. Central Command has delivered more than 6,800 metric tons of humanitarian aid onshore through the pier. That figure, however, pales in comparison to the 59,000 metric tons that were delivered in April, and 30,000 metric tons in May, over land routes.

And US officials said Friday that the pier will be removed again due to bad weather and may not be returned if aid groups stopped delivering.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Jeongyoon Han
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.
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