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Rafah is running out of food, even as the U.S. pier starts operating in Gaza

Aid groups warn of a looming crisis in Gaza's southern city of Rafah where they have no more food to distribute since the closure of the Rafah border crossing over a week ago, even as the first trucks of humanitarian aid entered Gaza via a temporary pier built by the U.S.

"In Rafah we have run out of food," says Matthew Hollingworth, the country director for the UN's World Food Programme in the Palestinian territories. He says the group still has some food in other areas of Gaza, but those supplies are also running low. "We have to be very careful what we do with it. We're having to target specific communities in the greatest of needs and we're having to prioritize what we give."

The Rafah crossing from Egypt had served as a lifeline, facilitating the flow of aid to the roughly 1.3 million people who were sheltering in the city in southern Gaza, most of them after fleeing fighting in the north and center – until Israeli forces took control of the crossing last week. The Rafah crossing has been closed since then and only a trickle of aid has come through other border crossings.

The U.N. says that more than 630,000 people have fled Rafah as the Israeli military intensifies its operations in the city. Aid groups have also evacuated and are rebuilding many of their kitchens in central Gaza.

Once the U.S. pier is at capacity, it can facilitate around 150 trucks of aid a day. "It will certainly help, but it will not be at scale enough to respond to the extraordinary needs of the population" Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, told NPR's Steve Inskeep.

But with experts warning that famine has already taken root in some areas of northern Gaza and with severe hunger throughout the enclave, he said the pier "will not be a substitute to the land crossings."

The pier is north of Rafah. Lazzarini notes that "our real challenge today is to move, in fact, the food and the assistance within the Gaza Strip because of the military operation."

Copyright 2024 NPR

Lauren Migaki is a senior producer with NPR's education desk. She helps tell stories about teacher strikes, college access and a new high school for young men in Washington D.C. She also produces and hosts NPR's podcast about the Student Podcast Challenge.
Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.