UN Humanitarian Chief Calls Gaza ‘Uninhabitable’ 3 Months into Israel-Hamas War

Etat Major des Armees via AP
This photo provided by the French Army shows containers being loaded into a C-130 military plane, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024 on a French military airbase in Jordan.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. humanitarian chief described Gaza on Friday as “uninhabitable” three months into Israel’s war with Hamas, warning that famine was looming and a public health disaster unfolding.

In a grim assessment of the devastating impact of Israel’s military response to the horrific Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, Martin Griffiths said that Gaza’s 2.3 million people face “daily threats to their very existence” while the world just watches.

He said tens of thousands of people, mostly women and children, have been killed or injured, families are sleeping in the open as temperatures plummet, and areas where Palestinians were told to relocate have been bombed.

“People are facing the highest levels of food insecurity ever recorded (and) famine is around the corner,” Griffiths said. The few partially functioning hospitals are overwhelmed and critically short of supplies, medical facilities are under relentless attack, infectious diseases are spreading, and amidst the chaos some 180 Palestinian women are giving birth every day.

“Gaza has simply become uninhabitable,” the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs said.

He said the humanitarian community is facing an “impossible mission” – trying to help more than two million people while U.N. staff and aid workers from partner organizations are killed, communications blackouts continue, roads are damaged, truck convoys are shot at, and vital commercial supplies “are almost non-existent.”

Griffiths reiterated U.N. demands for an immediate end to the war and the release of all hostages, declaring that “It is time for the international community to use all its influence to make this happen.”

The Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel by Hamas, which controls Gaza, killed around 1,200 people, and its fighters and other militants took some 250 people hostage. More than 120 remain in captivity.

Israel’s air, ground and sea assault in Gaza, aimed at obliterating Hamas, has killed more than 22,400 people, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

The three-month conflict has displaced some 85% of Gaza’s residents, and the United Nations has identified more than 37,000 structures destroyed or damaged in the war so far.

The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said Friday that most young children and pregnant women aren’t getting enough nutrition, with fewer than 200 aid trucks entering Gaza every day – less than half the prewar level – and distribution hampered by the fighting.

A survey by UNICEF found that 90% of children under the age of two are eating two or fewer of the five essential food groups each day, mainly bread or milk. A quarter of pregnant women said they only eat one food group per day.

UNICEF says cases of diarrhea among children under the age of five have risen from 48,000 to 71,000 — an indication of poor nutrition. Normally, only 2,000 cases of diarrhea are reported each month in the Gaza Strip.

Israel cut off food, clean water, medicine, electricity and fuel deliveries to Gaza immediately after the Hamas attack. In response to U.S. pressure it allowed a trickle of aid in through Egypt in late October, and the number of trucks has increased from about 100 to up to 200 every day.

Israeli authorities have repeatedly said there is enough food in the territory, and that they have taken the necessary steps to allow aid in, blaming any shortages on U.N. bodies.

But U.N. associate spokesperson Stephanie Tremblay reiterated Friday that “the current response is only meeting a fraction of people’s needs.”

She repeated what U.N. Secretary-General said last month: “It’s a mistake to quote the effectiveness of the humanitarian operation in Gaza based only on the number of trucks. An effective aid operation in Gaza requires security. It requires staff who can work in safety. It requires good logistical capacity and the resumption of commercial activity.”

Tremblay said until those requirements are met, Gazans will not receive enough aid.

Nonetheless, the U.N. World Food Program reported that in December it reached 975,000 vulnerable people with food across Gaza and in the West Bank, she said.

In an indication of difficulties getting aid into Gaza, some international efforts are resorting to dropping supplies from planes. France announced Friday that French and Jordanian C-130 planes dropped a total of seven tons of medical aid to the Jordanian field hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis in a joint operation overnight.

‘’The humanitarian situation remains critical in Gaza,’’ French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday on X, formerly Twitter. ‘’In a difficult context, France and Jordan delivered aid to the population and to those who are helping them.’’

The airdrop, a first from a Western country in the Gaza Strip, was agreed during Macron’s recent visit to Jordan, where he met with King Abdullah II last month, the French presidency said.