Apr 23, 2024 - World

U.S. envoy says humanitarian situation in Gaza improved, but famine risk remains

People walk through rubble past damaged buildings with one of the humanitarian aid packages collected from a drop over the northern Gaza Strip on April 23, 2024

People walk past damaged buildings, one with a humanitarian aid packages collected from a drop over the northern Gaza Strip, on Apr. 23, 2024. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration on Tuesday said Israel has taken "significant steps" to improve the flow of aid to Gaza over the last three weeks but stressed more work needs to be done.

Why it matters: Israel has been under intense international pressure to improve the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. The comments from David Satterfield, President Biden's special envoy for humanitarian issues in the Middle East, are the first significant public signal that the Biden administration sees Israel changing its course on aid into Gaza.

  • Earlier this month, Samantha Power, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said people in parts of northern Gaza have begun facing famine.
  • Satterfield said in a press briefing that while there is significant improvement, there is still a risk of famine in northern Gaza and called on Israel to do all it can to prevent it.
  • More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the enclave since Oct. 7, according to the Ministry of Health in Hamas-run Gaza.

Driving the news: Three weeks ago after seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen organization were killed in an Israeli air strike, Biden presented Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with an ultimatum.

  • Biden told Netanyahu Israel must "announce and implement" a series of "concrete and measurable steps" to protect aid workers and address humanitarian suffering, or else the U.S. won't support Israel in its war against Hamas.
  • After the call, the Israeli cabinet approved several measures to increase the flow of aid to Gaza and Israeli officials said they were going to "flood the zone" with aid.

State of play: Satterfield said in the briefing that the amount of aid entering Gaza "dramatically increased" in recent weeks, with up to 400 aid trucks crossing into Gaza some days.

  • He said that since the Biden-Netanyahu call about 200 trucks enter southern and central Gaza per day and about 100 trucks reach northern Gaza each day.
  • Satterfield said there has also been an improvement with the opening of two new crossing points into northern Gaza, allowing aid to be delivered directly to the area.
  • He added that more aid has been coming from Jordan through Israel over the last two weeks.
  • "[I]t's a very different picture than the one we had before the call between president Biden and Netanyahu, but there is still work to do," the U.S. envoy said.

What they're saying: "There's a significant increase [in aid], which is very good," said Juliette Touma, communications director of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is the main organization that delivers humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.

  • "It has to be sustained though," she told Axios, adding that the daily average of about 200 aid trucks entering Gaza per day in April so far is "still way below the 500 minimum needed."

What to watch: Satterfield said the main challenge right now is how to ensure aid is distributed across Gaza.

  • He said there is a shortage of trucks operated by the UN, which are needed to distribute the aid, and added that the large amounts of trucks created traffic jams in Gaza.
  • The U.S. envoy said other challenges are sanitation and providing health services to the population.
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