WFP has resources to end starvation in Gaza but security guarantee needed, says director

Cindy McCain tells The National of the importance of faster and safer aid access to the enclave

WFP executive director, Cindy McCain, last year. Photo: Bloomberg
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The UN’s World Food Programme has the resources to end starvation in Gaza only if it gets security guarantees, the group’s executive director Cindy McCain told The National on Thursday.

“We have food supplies at the border and will be able to scale up to feed 2.2 million people across Gaza. But we must have security guarantees and sustained access to deliver safely,” Ms McCain said in an exclusive interview.

Food supplies in the Gaza Strip have drastically decreased following Israel’s war on the enclave that began on October 7, after Hamas raided southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Israel's bombardment and ground invasion since then has killed more than 28,500 Palestinians, mostly civilians.

Aid workers have reported visible signs of starvation in the northern and central areas of Gaza, but experts say conditions across the enclave, where disease ravages overcrowded camps of the displaced, could prove as deadly as the fighting.

Aid convoys are also being denied entry into the north meaning civilians could be going without food for days.

Ms McCain said the WFP was only able to get in five aid convoys to the northern areas of the enclave since the start of the year.

“This is nowhere near enough for a crisis of this magnitude,” she said.

The WFP was able to assist nearly one million people in Gaza in January but “it’s still far below the frequency and quantity of aid that’s necessary”, she said.

The UN estimates 300,000 people are still living in northern areas that are largely cut off from assistance, and face a growing risk of famine.

All of the more than two million people living in the strip face severe hunger, Ms McCain said.

The solutions would be the unhindered entrance of humanitarian aid and for the private sector to play a role, she added. More “entry points for aid and for safe passage and distribution throughout Gaza” were needed, she said.

Ms McCain stressed that humanitarian work is limited by the “insufficient number of border crossings and the multi-layered vetting process for trucks at the checkpoints”.

Also, once the aid is through “efforts to set up service points are hampered by bombardments and constantly shifting battle fronts”, she said.

This not only endangers the lives of civilians in Gaza but also the UN and other humanitarian aid workers aiming to help them through the crisis.

The food agency has had to find new ways of operating with local partners, including finding safe sites for distribution, channelling wheat flour into bakeries so that they can resume production and distributing special food supplements to help children fight off malnutrition.

It has been providing food for Gazans since the start of the war.

Funding shortfall

The WFP is requesting $314 million in funding for Palestine that will ensure their operations keep running until the end of April. Otherwise, their humanitarian operations will be on the brink of collapse.

“WFP is being forced to drastically cut the size and scope of food, cash and nutrition programmes in around half of its operations because of a major drop in funding,” Ms McCain said.

Before the war started, severe funding shortfalls forced the agency “to suspend assistance for 60 per cent of WFP food aid recipients in Palestine, leaving only 150,000 people receiving reduced rations”, she said.

In the long run, this will lead to the WFP “only helping the hungriest people, which is in turn more expensive and potentially dangerous to the health of millions”, she said.

Ms McCain praised Gulf states for their co-operation with the WFP, particularly in supporting those affected in conflict and disaster zones.

“The GCC leaders and partners have been steadfast supporters and have helped the WFP to continue responding to emergencies, and to support and empower the most vulnerable populations quickly and efficiently,” she said.

Updated: February 15, 2024, 1:03 PM