‘In 11 days, we will no longer be able to distribute water or food in Gaza’

Raquel Martí, the executive director of UNRWA Spain, is demanding that Israel open the crossings in the territory. If it does not, ‘the people don’t die from the bombs, they will die from starvation’

Raquel Martí
Raquel Martí, executive director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East in Spain.
Lola Hierro

Gaza has been devastated. Residents don’t even recognize their own homes, because the neighborhoods have been so badly destroyed that they have lost all their reference points. This is the first thing that Raquel Martí, executive director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Spain, denounces from her office in Madrid. She is closely following every development in the Gaza Strip, where the bombings by the Israeli army in retaliation for the attack by Hamas have killed at least 1,400 people in six days, including 12 humanitarian workers from UNWRA.

The numbers of victims are overwhelming; the damage and urgent needs are endless. Martí says that her organization is having enormous problems supplying the 220,000 Gazans who have taken refuge in the 92 UNRWA schools spread across the Gaza Strip. Given the current resources and the blockade that Israel has imposed on the Gaza — with all border crossings closed and no news of humanitarian corridors opening — Martí estimates that in 11 days, at most, they will have no supplies left. Time is running out even faster for the nearly two million Palestinians who are not receiving humanitarian aid. “The population is not receiving everything they need because we are rationing, since we do not know how much longer we will have. If the crossings are not opened, in 11 days we will stop distributing water, food, hygiene products and medicine,” she says.

Question. UNRWA is sheltering 220,000 people in 92 schools. That’s sounds very crowded.

Answer. The schools are absolutely overcrowded, with women, children and entire families. But there are a total of 340,000 displaced people throughout Gaza, sleeping anywhere they can. The population is very afraid because the attacks are coming left, right and center. Scenes of people digging with their hands to remove victims from under the rubble are constantly seen.

Q. Meanwhile, the International Red Cross warns that hospitals are going to become morgues.

A. Hospitals have already become morgues, there is no more room for dead people in cold storage rooms. Bodies are piling up at their doors, there are not enough ICU beds and the injured are dying because doctors cannot cope, there are no essential medicines or supplies.

Q. How long can hospitals last for?

A. It depends on each one. Generators are running out of fuel because there is no electricity left in Gaza. The power plant has closed and hospitals have emergency generators for patients who need respirators or dialysis, for operating rooms or incubators for babies. But if there is no electricity or fuel, these people will not survive.

Q. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Gazans to leave the GazaStrip if they wanted to save their lives from the attacks of the Israeli army, but where can they go if Israel has closed the crossing?

A. Gaza has been besieged by land, sea and air since 2007. No one can leave without Israeli authorization, and they have to do so through Israeli crossings or the Rafah crossing, on the border with Egypt. What Netanyahu has said is that they leave through there, but this crossing has a capacity of 1,000 people a day, and we are talking about 2.2 million people. In other words, it would take about 2,200 days to evacuate all of Gaza; it’s ridiculous. In any case there are no humanitarian corridors, people cannot go through areas that are being bombed to get there and find out that they have to wait 2,200 days to leave. Israel has to open the crossings.

Q. Egypt says that the Rafah crossing is open for essential medical supplies to enter. Isn’t it coming in?

A. Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing is gigantic, like an airport terminal, with huge conveyor belts to load tons of food in every day. Rafah does not have this capacity, it is a door to the desert. Very little food can enter there, but it has also been bombed twice by Israel. They have to agree on humanitarian corridors not only for people to leave, but for aid to come in, because all the infrastructure has been bombed, and many roads in the Gaza Strip continue to be attacked.

Q. If Israel does not agree to open the border crossings to create aid corridors, what is the prognosis for Gaza?

A. People do not have electricity or water because the power plant is closed, and the desalination plant does not work. The water in the aquifer is not drinkable, the wastewater is not treated and this is going to cause a lot of diseases, and the markets are being left short of food. If the people of Gaza do not die from the bombs, they will die from starvation.

Q. What is UNRWA’s response to this scenario?

A. We have made an emergency call because we need €100 million [$105 million] to help some 250,000 people with food, medicine and cash for 90 days. We are starting to appeal to donors. Although all the crossings are closed now, the moment they open we need to have all humanitarian aid ready.

Q. We have been talking about the 250,000 people that you can help. But the total population in Gaza right now is 2.2 million inhabitants. What about everyone else?

A. Within our appeal, we have a chapter to distribute aid to another 200,000 homeless Gazans who cannot be housed in the shelters. But, in addition, since Saturday we have had to close all our food distribution centers, with which we served 1.2 million people. These people have no way of getting food.

Q. Survival for those who cannot access humanitarian aid is even more complicated. Is this the most extreme situation you have seen in Gaza?

A. No. It is very similar to the situation in 2014. In that offensive there were 2,200 dead, half a million displaced, 11,000 injured... That was the most disastrous. But what the population in Gaza is saying is that this is the worst, because the degree of destruction is much faster than the other time. If this continues, we are on track to surpass the record we saw in 2014.

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