Amid a growing health emergency and a staggering loss of life, U.N. humanitarian agencies warned Tuesday that thousands of Palestinians trapped in Gaza are likely to die in the coming days if they are denied access to urgently needed relief supplies.
The United Nations said around 4,200 people have been killed since Hamas invaded Israel October 7. More than 2,800 of those deaths and nearly 11,000 injuries reportedly occurred in Gaza with another 1,400 deaths and more than 4,100 injuries in Israel.
“The biggest challenge for us is, of course, access — with access to fuel, water, food and medical supplies running out. And this is exacerbating this catastrophe by the minute,” said Richard Peeperkorn, the World Health Organization’s representative in occupied Palestinian territory.
Speaking in Cairo, Egypt, Peeperkorn said health care workers in Gaza are overwhelmed by the number of casualties and fatalities arriving at hospitals that are running out of essential supplies, including trauma and surgical supplies and essential medicine for treatment.
He said, “We are not only talking about trauma and trauma care. We are also talking about essential medication needed for primary health care, noncommunicable diseases, emergency obstetric care, etc.”
Peeperkorn said that the WHO was particularly concerned by Israel’s demand that more than 1.1 million people leave northern Gaza for southern Gaza.
“The evacuation orders remain applicable to 23 hospitals in northern Gaza and would affect more than 2,000 patients, staff and many, many people who are sheltering in those places.
“The forced evacuation of hospitals puts the lives filled with patients at immediate risk and amounts to a death sentence of those needing intensive care and lifesaving surgeries,” he said, noting that could amount to a violation of international humanitarian law.
Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the WHO’s regional director for the eastern Mediterranean, said the emergency facing the occupied Palestinian territory has reached catastrophic proportions and risked “the spilling over of the conflict into other parts of the region.”
He said the “escalation of the conflict on the border between Israel and Lebanon could potentially destabilize neighboring countries and threaten the safety, health and well-being of people in the region as a whole.”
Since Hamas militants invaded Israel October 7, he said the United Nations and the WHO have made repeated calls for an end to hostilities to protect civilians, health workers and health facilities and have called for the safe release of all hostages.
“We have repeatedly called for humanitarian access into Gaza through the Rafah border from Egypt, where our supplies have been ready and waiting for more than 72 hours,” he said.
Meanwhile, the World Food Program said that current stocks of essential food commodities in Gaza are sufficient for only two weeks.
Abeer Etefa, the WFP’s senior communications officer for the Middle East and North Africa, said in Cairo that only one mill out of five in the Gaza Strip was operating because of security concerns and unavailability of fuel and electricity.
“So, the bread supply is running low, and people are lining up for hours to get bread. Currently, only five bakeries out of 23 in Gaza are still operating,” she said. “There are so many convoys and trucks with humanitarian supplies that are stockpiled now in the Egyptian city of Al Arish, which are just a few kilometers away from the Rafah border crossing with Gaza.”
She said food, water, medical and other supplies are “on stand-by,” awaiting the possibility to get into Gaza.
“There is no shortage of supplies,” she said. “What is missing is the opportunity to get these supplies to the people who are just a few kilometers away. They desperately need these supplies but are unable to benefit” from their proximity.
Etafa said she did not know what the holdup was but indicated that the Egyptian side cited safety and security concerns at the border for delaying humanitarian trucks from crossing into Gaza.
“We have not heard that the negotiations are off the table,” she said. “So, we are still hopeful that the supplies will go through” in the next few days.