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More than 80% of people in Gaza have been displaced from their homes, Mercy Corps says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a picture this morning of conditions on the ground in Gaza. Most people have had to leave their homes there, many are out of food and the fighting continues as cease-fire negotiations aren't working. The United States says Israel approved a cease-fire plan that Hamas has not fully accepted. We discussed the humanitarian situation with the Middle East director of Mercy Corps, which is a humanitarian group, Arnaud Quemin.

Many, many years ago, after the 9/11 attacks, I went to Afghanistan. And there were people who had lived in a war zone for 20 years, and they lived their lives even though it was a war zone. Is that even possible in Gaza?

ARNAUD QUEMIN: No. And, actually, I've been in Afghanistan, too, so I see what you're talking about. But the situation in Gaza is quite different. First, it's still pretty much happening, so...

INSKEEP: The bombs are falling, so you can't...

QUEMIN: Bombs are falling. Displacements are happening. This year, this month, everybody has been displaced four, five, six times. Lately, you know, you had about 1.3 million people in Rafah before the offensive. Out of that, maybe one-plus million had to move again, if not all of them. And every time you're displaced, you need to find a new place to stay, look for new ways to procure the food you need, the water. And these days, it's extremely challenging. So there is no way these people can be considered living a normal life.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about delivering aid to these people. The United States, of course, has built this floating pier that's supposed to truck in aid without going through the checkpoints that Israel has blocked. Is that working?

QUEMIN: I mean, no, not for us. And it might be working for some other organizations, but it's never going to be the type of access we need. It's...

INSKEEP: Why?

QUEMIN: Because it's very impractical. First, the pier arrives in the north, where we have very limited access at the moment. So getting the shipments from there to the areas where the populations are is very complicated. So it's not really connected with the humanitarian infrastructure. And it's a pier. I mean, normally for this kind of situation, you would need to have, like, land access and a very high level of fluidity through those, which we don't have. So that's what we need to see happen. I don't think the pier is the long-term solution.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about the warring sides here. How helpful have the Israelis been when you reach out to them, when you need something from them?

QUEMIN: The bottom line is the situation is such in Gaza today that the answer is pretty clear. We didn't get enough access to deliver the aid that is required there. There are a lot of conversations on very small, technical aspects like number of trucks, which system is open, is the pier working. Actually, all of those are a very small part of a big picture that is very bleak. And that's what needs to be seen first before moving into whether things are enough or not at a very specific point.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about the other side. How helpful is Hamas when you reach out to them and you're trying to help people that Hamas, in theory, is governing?

QUEMIN: So we don't have to talk with Hamas at this point. They are not interacting with our operations, so they are not a factor in our ability to have access to the people in Gaza.

INSKEEP: How badly do people want a cease-fire?

QUEMIN: I would imagine everybody wants a cease-fire very highly. I'm interacting with our team in Gaza. At this moment, we have 35 staff there. It's such a hopeless moment. Anything that can show that there is a future that is not the same as what they are going through at the moment would be bringing them back to life, basically.

INSKEEP: Do you think people would be able to look to the future almost immediately, even with all the destruction? Give them a brief pause, things would begin to happen?

QUEMIN: The thing is, today, they are caught in this long, horrible present. Every day is a cycle where you have to go up very early, go look for food, find some ways to secure water, come back, cook at home and then try to avoid bombing or any other security issues. And that's becoming a routine. The day this stops and things start to improve, there would be a complete mindset that will reappear.

INSKEEP: Arnaud Quemin of Mercy Corps, thanks for coming by.

QUEMIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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