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Gaza: Aid operations in peril amid funding crisis

“It’s difficult to imagine that Gazans will survive this crisis without UNRWA…“(we) have received reports that people in the area are grinding bird feed to make flour,” said Thomas White, Director of UNRWA Affairs in Gaza and UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  

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Citing “colossal” needs now facing over two million people in the enclave who depend on UNRWA for their “sheer survival”, the agency warned the already dire humanitarian situation risks getting worse, following the decision of 16 donor countries to cut the agency’s funding.

Terror link accusation

The development follows allegations that some UNRWA staff colluded with Hamas during its terror attacks on southern Israel on 7 October that left some 1,200 massacred and more than 250 taken hostage.

The UN’s highest investigative body is already conducting a probe into the allegations at the request of UNRWA, which plays a key role in Gaza as the largest humanitarian organization there. Of its 13,000 staff, more than 3,000 continue working.

Shortly after UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini announced the immediate dismissal of staff facing the allegations and his decision to involve the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services in New York, a number of donor countries suspended $440 million in funding.

Guterres appeal

“UNRWA is the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza. I appeal to all Member States to guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s lifesaving work,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, addressing the Security Council on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, with no let-up in Israeli bombardments across Gaza – and particularly in the southern city of Khan Younis – humanitarians warned that the exodus of people seeking shelter in the south has continued unabated.

“Rafah has become a sea of people fleeing bombardments,” said Mr. White, as UNRWA said that tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee shelling and fighting in Khan Younis just this week, adding to the more than 1.4 million people already crammed in the southern governorate of Rafah

“Most are living in makeshift structures, tents, or out in the open and now also fear they might no longer receive any food or other humanitarian assistance from UNRWA,” the UN agency said in a statement.

Pointing to longstanding obstacles to humanitarian aid access in the north of Gaza since war erupted on 7 October, UNWRA issued a new warning that famine “is looming”.

“We continue to coordinate with the Israeli Army to be able to go to the north, but this has been largely denied,” said Mr. White. “When our convoys are finally permitted to go to the area, people rush to the trucks to get food and often eat it on the spot.”   

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