'Beyond catastrophic': UN official describes appalling conditions in Gaza

With hunger widespread, doctors also report increase in stillbirths and neonatal deaths

Palestinian children inside a makeshift tent at a camp in Rafah, southern Gaza. AFP
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The situation in Gaza is “beyond catastrophic” and exceeds the scope of a humanitarian crisis, a UN official said on Friday.

“It's a nightmare which is much more than a humanitarian crisis,” Dominic Allen, UN Population Fund representative for the State of Palestine, told reporters. “It's a crisis of humanity and the situation is beyond catastrophic.

“Having left Gaza this week I can assure you it’s worse than I can describe or that pictures can show or that you can imagine.”

“Gaza is dust,” he said, adding “everyone we passed, everyone we spoke to was gaunt, frail, emaciated, and hungry.”

He pointed out that in the coastal enclave, fear pervades every aspect of life, particularly for expectant mothers.

“The doctors are reporting that they're no longer see normal-sized babies born … What they do see though, tragically, are more stillborn babies and more neonatal deaths caused in part … by malnutrition, dehydration and complications.”

The UN official described how doctors in the enclave did the “unthinkable” and were forced to perform amputations on children without anaesthetic.

Most of Gaza's hospital are no longer functioning and the UN has warned repeatedly that northern Gaza in particular faces the threat of imminent famine.

Mr Allen, who advocated for aid to be delivered without restrictions and on a large scale, said he saw air drops that either missed their target or malfunctioned.

“What I saw earlier in January were medical supplies, even items such as morphine, landing on a beach with children picking them up,” he said.

Israel's military campaign to eliminate the Palestinian militant group Hamas has killed at least 31,490 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

This followed a Hamas assault on Israeli communities on October 7, in which 1,200 people were killed and 240 abducted.

“My greatest fear is what may come from Rafah,” said Mr Allen.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said on Friday he had approved the military's plan for an operation in Rafah, the last major population centre in Gaza yet to be subjected to a ground assault.

US President Joe Biden, who has supported Israel during the war, has said an Israeli invasion of Rafah would be a “red line” without credible civilian protection plans in place.

Updated: March 16, 2024, 5:18 PM