As Rafah needs rise, humanitarian response forced to ‘scrape the bottom of the barrel’

This is a summary of what was said by UNICEF Senior Emergency Coordinator in the Gaza Strip, Hamish Young – to whom quoted text may be attributed - at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva

13 May 2024
A Palestinian family with their children flees their home amid the increase of hostilities in Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip.
UNICEF/UNI571255/Eyad El Baba

GENEVA/RAFAH, Gaza, 10 May 2024 – “Thank you, and greetings from Rafah in Gaza. I have been working on large-scale humanitarian emergencies for the best part of the last 30 years and I've never been involved in a situation as devastating, complex or erratic as this.

“When I arrived in Gaza in the middle of November, I was shocked by the severity of the impact of this conflict on children and, impossibly, it has continued to worsen since.

“Yesterday, I walked around Al-Mawasi, the so-called humanitarian zone’ that people in eastern Rafah are being told to move to. More than 100,000 people have fled Rafah in the last 5 days and the stream of displacement continues. The roads to Mawasi are jammed – many hundreds of trucks, buses, cars and donkey carts loaded with people and possessions.

“Today I saw someone trying to move their latrine on the back of a donkey cart – this gives you an idea of just how desperate people are.  Shelters already lined Al-Mawasi’s sand dunes and now it is hard to step between the mass of tents and tarpaulins.

“People I speak with tell me they are exhausted, terrified and know life in Al-Mawasi will, again, impossibly, be harder. Families lack proper sanitation facilities, drinking water and shelter. People are making improvised toilets by digging holes in the ground around groups of tents. Open defecation is on the rise.

“Displaced people are subject to even greater risk of disease, infections, malnutrition, dehydration and other protection and health concerns. Beyond a few mobile health points and field hospitals with limited capacity, the closest hospital is at least 4km away, assuming that the road to it is safe to use. In Gaza almost everyone has now been displaced more than once – some many times – and as a result they are at even greater risk.

"One father told me, crying, that he only had bad options to choose from. Nowhere is safe for his children.

"Impossibly, again, it will worsen if humanitarian operations are not revived in the next 48 hours.

"For 5 days, no fuel and virtually no humanitarian aid entered the Gaza Strip and we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. This is already a huge issue for the population and for all humanitarian actors but in a matter of days, if not corrected, the lack of fuel could grind humanitarian operations to a halt.

"Without fuel, the maternity wards in Emirati hospital cannot function, while approximately 80 babies are born there every day. Pregnant women are left without options for safe delivery of their newborns. As we have seen in other parts of Gaza over the last seven months, when hospitals run out of fuel, lifesaving equipment such as ventilators and incubators stop working.  

"Without fuel, the water desalination plants and the water wells cannot function, the sewage system cannot operate. And our trucks cannot bring the critical, lifesaving humanitarian aid to the people in need.

"Food stock to support the people in the south is expected to run out tomorrow and the last functioning bakery in the south is about to run out of fuel. 

"At a time when people are being forced to pick up and move again, the lifesaving supplies that sustain and support them have been entirely cut off. Let’s be very clear – this will result in children dying. Deaths that can be prevented.

"And then there are the families that cannot leave Rafah or choose to stay. Hundreds of thousands of children are injured, sick, malnourished or have a preexisting disability.

“Over 14,000 children have reportedly been killed already - a ground offensive in Rafah will undoubtedly result in this number increasing dramatically.

"I've spent a lot of time in Gaza’s remaining hospitals and the injuries I have witnessed are excruciating. It is really hard to describe the impact of modern weaponry on a four-year-old. What it does to a young body is just beyond comprehension. I've seen firsthand many, many children who have lost limbs, who have suffered horrific burns. And of course, the impact on the mental health of all children in the Gaza Strip is terrible.

"Those of us working here are doing everything we can to keep the humanitarian response alive. We remain hopeful our calls for a ceasefire will be heard and acted on, but we are also braced for this senseless conflict to continue to shock even the most seasoned of us.

"We need fuel immediately. Aid must flow. Hostages must be freed. Rafah must not be invaded. And children must be protected, not killed."


Media contacts

Ricardo Pires
Communication Specialist
Tel: +1 (917) 631-1226
Tess Ingram
Tel: +1 347 593 2593

Additional resources

Gaza Strip. A boy walks past the rubble of a destroyed neighborhood in Khan Younis, southern the Gaza Strip.
A boy walks past the rubble of a destroyed neighborhood in Khan Younis, southern the Gaza Strip.

Additional resources for media


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