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In Gaza, medical supplies, food and water are running dangerously low

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And today is the day that the U.N.'s World Food Programme hoped to cross from Egypt into Gaza and begin distributing aid to the people there. Since the war between Hamas and Israel began and Israeli officials cut supply routes to Gaza, the organization has stockpiled almost 1,000 metric tons of food at Egypt's border with Gaza. On the line with us now from Jerusalem is the World Food Programme's Palestine country director, Samer AbdelJaber. Mr. AbdelJaber, thanks so much for talking with us again.

SAMER ABDELJABER: Thanks a lot, Michel, for hosting me.

MARTIN: So have you been able to start delivering food as you had hoped?

ABDELJABER: So, Michel, I have to say that the situation is heartbreaking. People are desperate, looking for shelter, food and water. And, of course, the infrastructure is destroyed. We've been able to reach up to 500,000 people, half a million people, since the start of the escalation. Around 200 of them are in shelters, and we're reaching them with bread every day. But we have also food vouchers for people to go to shops that are around them. So in short, yes, we are able to reach people, but our stocks are depleting rapidly.

MARTIN: So what are the biggest barriers beyond the checkpoints?

ABDELJABER: It's the crossing, actually. We don't have access. So the main issue is access into Gaza. That's the safe and sustained access into Gaza to get our commodities. We've been actually flying in and trucking lots of food around Gaza so that we can get it into Gaza as soon as the access is granted. And then the next step would be, actually, a safe access to our staff and contractors so that we can actually reach the people in need inside Gaza.

MARTIN: So how are you getting - what I'm hearing from you is you're being able to get some things in but not at the scale that is needed. How are you able to get some things in now? Is it just that it's so slow going?

ABDELJABER: Not at all, actually. These are from the stocks that we had before the closure of all crossings with Gaza.

MARTIN: I see.

ABDELJABER: That's why I was saying we are depleting the stocks. I think we have only for one day worth of stock in terms of WFP.

MARTIN: I understand what you're saying. So you're saying that there were supplies that were prepositioned, but you haven't been able to replenish those stocks at all. I take it this is very different from other natural disasters or conflict zones that you've worked in because you obviously have very long experience in this role.

ABDELJABER: So yeah, usually, you feel like the access on the ground - we go, all of us. We try to mobilize resources but also the teams on the ground. This one is requiring a lot of coordination to make sure that the - first of all, the access into Gaza is granted so that we can work on the ground. So we're still missing the first piece of it.

MARTIN: Have you gotten any word on when you're going to be able to actually cross? I mean, we've seen images that there are trucks there that are ready to go. Do you have any word on when you are going to be able to start moving things in?

ABDELJABER: We're optimistic. So we've been hearing that it should be within the next couple of days. So as soon as the confirmation comes, our trucks will be on the road.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, do you mind if I ask how you are doing and how you and the other staff members and volunteers are doing?

ABDELJABER: Thanks, Michel, for this question. We're doing fine. Of course, it's very stressful, tiring period. But we're doing everything we can to reach the people in need in Gaza. But I have to say I have around 150 staff and dependents that are stuck inside Gaza. And it's very difficult for them living with one liter of water per day for each one of them. Some of them are actually sleeping in the cars. Some of them are actually sleeping in the warehouse. So it's been really, really difficult for our staff.

MARTIN: That is Samer AbdelJaber. He is the Palestine country director for the U.N.'s World Food Programme. Mr. AbdelJaber, thank you so much for speaking with us.

ABDELJABER: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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