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USAID says parts of Gaza are experiencing famine

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, told a congressional hearing that parts of Gaza are already experiencing famine. Aid agencies have been sounding the alarm for weeks. Catastrophic is how Jamie McGoldrick describes the situation in Gaza. This is the last day that Jamie McGoldrick is interim U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territories, and he joins us on his way home from Tel Aviv. Thanks for being with us.

JAMIE MCGOLDRICK: You're welcome.

SIMON: You've been in and out of Gaza a number of times. What stays with you?

MCGOLDRICK: Well, I just think it's the magnitude of the tragedy, you know, the fact that there isn't a living soul in Gaza that's not affected by what's happened. Two-point-two million people have been dispossessed, displaced, lost family members and there's massive destruction. There's no livelihood ahead of them. And then there's actually the squalid conditions they live in, the overcrowded nature of everything and our inability to supply all the necessary material. They need for food, water, sanitation, health, shelter.

SIMON: Is more aid coming in and is Israel doing enough?

MCGOLDRICK: I think more is coming in, and they've made a lot of good announcements in the last couple of weeks following the World Central Kitchen tragedy. And that and plus President Biden's calls and high-level visits here of various people from the U.S. administration has helped, I think, to loosen things up. And we have had concessions, more entry points, more routes in from Jordan, you know, extensions of all of the supply lines we have. That will make a difference slowly but surely, but right now it's only a trickle for the meantime.

SIMON: So Israel should be doing more in your judgment?

MCGOLDRICK: I think they should. And I think they've obviously admitted to that, the fact that they've offered these new concessions. So all of that is adding more possibilities of delivering aid in. Right now we've only got 250 trucks a day and we need 500, so anything we can do to reach that figure, that will make the biggest difference.

SIMON: Israel has said that Hamas steals aid and uses it for their own purposes. Have you, your staff seen any evidence of that?

MCGOLDRICK: Well, I think what happens is, I mean, if you could imagine that for six months people haven't received the regular supply of food and all the other necessities they need, there's a great deal of desperation there. And people see a truck coming in, and because they're so limited and they're coming in quite intermittently, people see a truck and they jump on it. I think there's a combination of different types. I think there's a lot of desperate people who are trying to feed their families.

I think there's also some organized gangs who are maybe trying to get - feed the black market and get cash from that because the prices are very high. But I don't know the percentages there. In terms of Hamas, I haven't seen myself. I've been in Gaza every week since I've been here. I've seen people with guns, I've seen people crowd control, but I haven't seen them stealing stuff from the back of trucks.

SIMON: May I ask what's your advice to the coordinator who takes your place?

MCGOLDRICK: Well, I think the idea is to build relations with Israel, to build a positive dynamic, to work with all of us to understand it's a joint responsibility, Israel and the international community, to feed the people who are under the occupation of Israel of Gaza. And they've got a responsibility to want to help us, but also at the same time to make sure that enough material comes in. And I would just say that we try and keep pushing the concessions they've given us, and we can try and get them implemented fully across the board.

SIMON: Yeah. A cease-fire would help?

MCGOLDRICK: Yeah, I mean, anything to stop the hostilities so we could actually get back to a normality, get back to some semblance of preparing beyond just the lifesaving. I think that's where we want to be. We can't keep people in this type of environment for long because it's soul-destroying, it's desperation setting in, hopelessness is there. And I think we have to find a way of giving people a semblance of a future. There are too many young people in Gaza who look ahead and see very little, and we have to change that.

SIMON: Mr. McGoldrick, you've had a long career in humanitarian relief work all over the world. What would you like people to understand better about the kind of work you and others do?

MCGOLDRICK: I think they have to understand that it's a very professional industry. They are made up of people who are, I think, right-minded and like-minded. I think they've got a sense of justice about them. I think they want to make a difference. I think they want to stay clear of being used politically or instrumentalized by politicians. I think they would like to have been able to use the principles we use - neutrality, independence, impartiality - to use those to a full extent. And unfortunately, in this geopolitical reality we live in in this world, it's very hard to do that because we often get used by politicians for other purposes other than humanitarian assistance.

SIMON: I've got to ask how.

MCGOLDRICK: Well, we get used because, you know, politicians, they talk about the number of trucks that go into various locations or access or these types of things. That's not the business of politicians. Politicians should talk about peace, security, diplomacy and fix the cause of the problem. We, the humanitarians, are really addressing the symptoms of emergencies, and the causes have not been addressed properly. So too often politicians that are using our currency of conversation, you know, the content of our work as part of a deliberation they have between themselves, I don't think that's what should be happening. People should be actually talking about fixing the political problem and getting stability and security into the situation to reduce the whole humanitarian impact.

SIMON: Jamie McGoldrick is now the former humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory. Mr. McGoldrick, safe travels. Thank you very much.

MCGOLDRICK: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.