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Aid relief is arriving in Gaza but ‘too little, too late’, warns WHO

“Even if there is no ceasefire, you would expect humanitarian corridors to operate… in a much more sustained way than what’s happening now,” said Sean Casey, Emergency Medical Teams Coordinator for the World Health Organization (WHO), speaking from Rafah in southern Gaza.

Echoing that appeal and expressing concerns about intensifying hostilities in the south, Dr Rik Peeperkorn, WHO Representative for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, explained that moving staff and supplies “safely and swiftly” had been compromised, “as deconfliction is required for any moves across Gaza, including the south – often leading to delays”.

In addition to getting more essential supplies into Gaza, what was also needed urgently was easier movement of humanitarian aid and workers within the enclave, “so that we can reach people wherever they are”, Dr Peeperkorn explained.

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, 23,084 people have been killed in the enclave of whom killed 70 per cent were women and children. Nearly 59,000 people have also been injured, which is approximately 2.7 per cent of Gaza’s population.

UN ‘completely ready’ to deliver

The WHO official insisted that the UN and its partners remained “completely ready” to deliver assistance to Gazans, who have endured a massive bombing campaign by the Israel military, in response to the Hamas-led terror attacks in southern Israel beginning 7 October that killed some 1,200 people.

But hostilities and evacuation orders in Gaza’s central areas and further south in  Khan Younis have affected access to hospitals for patients and ambulances, Dr Peeperkorn explained, adding that it has also become “incredibly complex” for WHO to reach “ailing” facilities with medical supplies and fuel. 

Of concern are three hospitals located near evacuation zones – European Gaza Hospital, Nasser Medical Complex and Al-Aqsa – “a lifeline” in the south for about two million people, the WHO official said, speaking from Jerusalem. 

Healthworkers fleeing for their lives

“(The) constricted flow of supplies and access and evacuation of medical staff from many hospitals due to fears for safety are a recipe for disaster and will make more hospitals non-functional, as witnessed in the north. The international community must not allow this to happen,” Dr Peeperkorn said.

One indication of the “shrinking space” for lifesaving humanitarian work in the enclave is the fact that the UN health agency has not been reached northern Gaza for two weeks. 

A total of six planned WHO humanitarian missions have had to be cancelled since 26 December, according to the UN health agency. “Our team is ready to deliver but we have not been able to receive the necessary permissions to proceed safely,” Dr Peeperkorn explained.

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