United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Chief Philippe Lazzarini has warned of ‘a deliberate and concerted campaign’ aimed at ending its operations and highlighted the severe global and regional security consequences of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza if additional funding is not secured. Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, the UNRWA chief also said that the attacks on the agency are an effort to eliminate its role in protecting the rights of Palestinian refugees and bearing witness to their plight.

Israel’s tactics include spreading misinformation to donors and deliberately destroying UNRWA infrastructure in Gaza. Eviction proceedings from UNRWA’s East Jerusalem headquarters are underway, accompanied by efforts to prohibit agency activities on Israeli territory.

Israel’s claim that 12 out of 30,000 UNRWA staff were involved in Hamas’s attacks on 7 October remains unsubstantiated. The unverified accusations have led to 16 countries pausing their funding, resulting in a loss of approximately $450 million for UNRWA.

Lazzarini revealed that within five months, more children, journalists, medical personnel, and UN staff have been killed in Gaza than anywhere else in the world during a conflict. Five per cent of the population died, was wounded, or went missing in just 150 days. Lazzarini also expressed concern about the unknown number of people buried under the rubble across Gaza.

Lazzarini criticised Israel’s threatened assault on Rafah, where an estimated 1.4 million displaced people are concentrated, warning that despite the horrors witnessed, the worst may be yet to come for Gazans.

Matthew Hollingworth, the World Food Programme (WFP) country director for Palestine, claimed that the recent tragedy of the aid seekers should have been foreseen and prevented. He underlined the urgent need for an aid corridor into northern Gaza to avert a man-made famine.

Hollingworth noted that nowhere else in the world has such a large number of people been at risk of famine.

The suspension of food deliveries to north Gaza by the WFP in late February, despite the imminent threat of starvation, was a decision made after Israeli forces twice opened fire on Palestinians attempting to obtain food from WFP trucks in the same area, according to Hollingworth. He stressed the rationale behind the suspension, citing fear of further casualties as Isreal kept firing on for two consecutive days when people approached the military checkpoint or rushed the trucks.

The UN, the EU, and witnesses in Gaza report that numerous individuals attempting to access aid from trucks were shot by Israeli forces. Israel’s military claims the troops fired in self-defence, denying intentional targeting of hungry crowds.

The WFP country director for Palestine called for flooding the territory’s north with aid to stabilise the situation. He highlighted that people would only cease risking their lives for aid when they had accumulated several days’ or weeks’ worth of food, coupled with the assurance of a functioning aid pipeline. Hollingworth estimated a daily minimum of 600 tonnes of food aid, equivalent to 30 trucks, for ten days, starting immediately, would be required to meet the urgent needs of the beleaguered population.

The WFP is in discussions with communities in Gaza City and the Israeli military to resume deliveries despite setbacks from recent Israeli attacks. Hollingworth expressed confidence in overcoming challenges, noting the urgent need to resume deliveries as Gaza City faces the imminent threat of starvation.

The United States initiated airdrops of food to address the situation in Gaza City. However, airdrops alone are said to be insufficient to prevent a famine, as a C-130 Hercules cargo plane can carry less than five tonnes of food, equivalent to about a quarter of a truckload.

Hollingworth emphasised the significance of airdrops in maintaining hope. Currently, the WFP provides food to approximately 1.1 million people monthly in Gaza, working with UNRWA, which also feeds around 1.1 million people.

Despite ongoing efforts, only a minimal portion of the food aid transported into southern Gaza from the Egyptian border has reached the north, where hunger is most severe, according to Hollingworth. Approximately 300,000 people in Gaza have been relying on pre-existing supplies since Israel’s response to cross-border attacks by Hamas.

After five months, essential supplies, including food and animal feed, are depleted, mainly in Gaza City. During a late February visit, Hollingworth observed people resorting to extreme measures, such as cutting grass and picking leaves from trees for sustenance. Children were visibly suffering from hunger, and adults reported going days without food to ensure their children had a few mouthfuls daily. A man, weakened by hunger, was forced to open a WFP aid box and eat a can of beans for strength before carrying the remaining supplies home.

Hollingworth disclosed that the organisation has 550 trucks loaded with food in El Arish, poised for movement once there is improved access. However, the number of aid trucks entering Gaza has significantly decreased to about 100 per day in February, less than half of January’s levels.

Numerous challenges contribute to these delays, including bottlenecks at Israeli checkpoints, security concerns in a stretch between the border and Rafah, and logistical difficulties on damaged streets crowded with refugees. While hunger is prevalent in communities along the route, it is less severe than in the north.

Trucks can queue for a week or more before crossing, and the process takes 24 to 48 hours at Israeli checkpoints. Delays are worsened by six loading and unloading processes involving transfers from Egyptian trucks to “sterile” trucks, followed by detailed inspection at a checkpoint. While the approval of items is at the discretion of Israeli forces, the rejection of one item results in the truck being returned.

Approved items are then loaded onto sterile trucks, taken to the Gaza border, unloaded, and reloaded onto trucks that enter Gaza. After crossing into Gaza, there is a 4 km no-man’s-land corridor to Rafah, where the Israeli military and Gaza authorities have no control. Security in this corridor relies on the UN, with the WFP’s only security being persuasion to prevent theft.

The journey from El Said or El Arish to Rafah takes seven to 10 days, occasionally facing closures due to demonstrations by Israeli settlers opposing aid supplies to Gaza. Inside Gaza, trucks take the crowded streets in Rafah, where refugee tents obstruct the way, proceeding slowly north through communities in desperate need of food.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces have opened fire on a crowd of Palestinians gathered at the Kuwaiti roundabout in Gaza City, marking the second such attack over the past few days. The incident occurred during aid distribution.

The Gaza Health Ministry confirmed the deaths of 15 children at Kamal Adwan Hospital, bringing the total number of children who have died due to malnutrition and inadequate medical care to 16.

Backed and armed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and other western governments, Israel has killed 30,534 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and wounded 71,920 others since 7 October.