1. Home
  2. Middle East and North Africa
  3. Palestine

Staple foods in short supply

[OPT/Israel] The closure of a key commercial border crossing at Karni is strangling relief supplies into Gaza.
The closure of a key commercial border crossing at Karni is strangling supplies into Gaza (Google Earth)

A United Nations aid agency has warned that Israel’s intermittent closure of crossings into Gaza is severely hampering its ability to bring in food.

Every two months, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) gives out food to Palestinian refugees living in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian-administered area bordering Israel and Egypt.

Its latest food delivery has been delayed by a lack of access. "Food distribution will not start until we can get our products into Gaza. The 830,000 refugees we feed will not have any food from us," said John Ging, UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza.

UNRWA usually brings food supplies through the Karni Crossing, a cargo terminal on the eastern end of a barrier between Israel and the Gaza Strip. But Israel has closed the crossing, saying it discovered a tunnel that could be used to attack its border personnel.

"We had to close the checkpoint because we have civilians working there and we don't want them killed by the Palestinians," said Shlomo Dror, spokesman for Israel's Government Coordination Office, which monitors the humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Dror told IRIN that Israel had offered to open other border crossings such as Sufa, which is farther south - but said the Palestinian authorities had refused.

"We are dependent on this border opening up," said Ging. "We have no alternative. The local market cannot supply us with the quantities [of food] that we need. We tried to source two weeks' supply of lentils locally. We needed 200 tonnes, only half that was available."

Ging told IRIN that last year, Israel had closed the crossings into Gaza 19 per cent of the time, which was manageable. So far this year, Israel had closed the crossings more than 50 per cent of the time, he said, which made UNRWA's task impossible.

Karni was the only crossing equipped to handle the quantities of food UNRWA needs. "They [Israeli authorities] are making an honest effort but there's no substitute for the commercial crossing. There is no comparable alternative in terms of quantity. That is the weakness of the Gaza Strip. We are talking about hundreds of containers."

Ging said there were some local vegetables as well as fruit like grapes and figs, though apples, bananas and oranges were now unavailable.

More urgently, four of Gaza's seven mills were unable to bake bread because they had no flour. "There is nobody starving at the moment, but certain staple foods are unavailable," he said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

We uncovered the sex abuse scandal that rocked the WHO, but there’s more to do

We just covered a report that says the World Health Organization failed to prevent and tackle widespread sexual abuse during the Ebola response in Congo.

Our investigation with the Thomson Reuters Foundation triggered this probe, demonstrating the impact our journalism can have. 

But this won’t be the last case of aid worker sex abuse. This also won’t be the last time the aid sector has to ask itself difficult questions about why justice for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation has been sorely lacking. 

We’re already working on our next investigation, but reporting like this takes months, sometimes years, and can’t be done alone. 

The support of our readers and donors helps keep our journalism free and accessible for all. Donations mean we can keep holding power in the aid sector accountable, and do more of this. 

Become a member today and support independent journalism

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.