Statement by WFP Deputy Executive Director After Visit to Gaza

Photo: WFP/Ali Jadallah/2023
Published December 8, 2023

This is a statement from the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Carl Skau.

We visited Gaza today and nothing quite prepared me for the fear, the chaos and the despair we encountered.

Confusion at warehouses, distribution points with thousands of desperate hungry people, supermarkets with bare shelves, and overcrowded shelters with bursting bathrooms. The dull thud of bombs was the soundtrack for our day.

At a food distribution, one woman told me she lived with nine other families in one apartment. They take turns sleeping at night because not all could lay down at the same time. Later, we drove by a cemetery with people gathered for what seemed like a burial. Looking more closely we saw they were cutting down trees in the cemetery to use as firewood.

Our mission began with our vehicle stuck at the Rafah border for hours, a reminder of how cumbersome it is to get critical aid and staff into Gaza and the critical need for more border crossings.

We had come to Gaza to show our commitment to the Palestinian people and to support our employees.

At an emotional meeting with our staff and their families, they asked what was going to happen, what were our plans?  There were no clear or easy answers.

Our team inside Gaza is doing incredible work.  They are living through an immense humanitarian crisis, while also trying to tackle that crisis. They have reached over 1 million people with food so far. They work resolutely every day, to prevent starvation among Gazans and keep finding creative solutions, despite the fear for their lives and the many challenges.

But this is no longer tenable. With law and order breaking down, any meaningful humanitarian operation is impossible.  With just a fraction of the needed food supplies coming in, a fatal absence of fuel, interruptions to communications systems and no security for our staff or for the people we serve at food distributions, we cannot do our job.

People in Gaza are desperate. You can see fear in the eyes of women and children. Gazans are living packed into unhealthy shelters or on the streets as winter closes in, they are sick, and they do not have enough food.

A U.N. World Food Programme survey taken during the pause in hostilities, showed that Gazans are simply not eating. Nine out of ten families in some areas spent a full day and night without any food at all. When asked how often this happened, they told us that for up to 10 days in the past month, they had not eaten food.

During the 7-day pause, the U.N. World Food Programme showed that we can deliver if the conditions allow. We have food on trucks, but we need more than one crossing. And once the trucks are inside, we need free and safe passage to reach Palestinians wherever they are.

This will only be possible with a humanitarian ceasefire and ultimately, we need this conflict to end.

On Friday, December 8, the U.N. World Food Programme’s Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau, Regional Director for the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe Corinne Fleischer, and Palestine Country Director Samer AbdelJaber entered through the Rafah crossing into Gaza to meet with U.N. World Food Programme staff, local retailers, and Palestinians affected by the ongoing conflict.

Please note that new video material is available on Gaza operations here.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the world’s leading humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.