Thursday, November 2, 2023

Washington, DC


MR. HAIDAR ALMEHRABI (via translation): Joining me now from Washington, DC, is Isobel Coleman, welcome. The aid began to enter Gaza on October 21, but people there have been critical of the amount. How much aid has gotten through?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ISOBEL COLEMAN: As you note the Rafah crossing did open on October 21, and the first convoys that went through were small in number, but we have been able to scale up since then – more than 300 trucks now have entered into Gaza. And it is, of course, not at all sufficient to meet the need that is there. We, USAID, we are the lead humanitarian agency for the U.S. government. We're working very closely with our State Department colleagues, with the UN, with trusted partners on the ground, with the Egyptian government, with the Israeli government, in a huge effort to try to scale the amount of assistance that is going into Gaza to meet the urgent humanitarian needs, which are becoming more acute by the day.

MR. ALMEHRABI (via translation): What is the nature of aid going to Gaza?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: So, the United States has been providing assistance to people in Gaza since the beginning of this crisis. We had emergency supplies and stocks that were already on the ground in Gaza that have continued to be distributed to people there by our trusted partners working under very, very difficult conditions. In addition, we have been working closely with the Egyptian government to try to get additional support into Al-Arish. We've been working with the Israelis to allow the trucks to flow through the Rafah crossing and also to make sure that fuel and other needed supplies, getting the water back on, to meet the humanitarian needs that are growing more urgent by the day.

So our assistance has been coming in the form of food, of multipurpose market-based assistance for people to be able to buy things in stores, that some are still open. I know the prices are high, but they've been able to purchase some remaining supplies that are on the shelves, even as we're working to get more humanitarian aid and assistance in. And then, of course, working diplomatically to resolve the many obstacles that have faced the sustained and high-level flow of assistance that is most urgently needed.

MR. ALMEHRABI (via translation): You spoke about the fuel aid and WHO says a number of hospitals will stop functioning. This will put the lives of Palestinians at risk. Will the U.S. work on this especially?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: Fuel, as we know, is one of the most complicated issues right now because it is a dual use commodity. It is absolutely needed by hospitals and by people to access basic services like electricity, clean water desalination. We know it's also used by Hamas to ventilate their tunnels, to move goods around, to fire their rockets. So there's extraordinary scrutiny over fuel and how it is going to move.

I know that UNRWA has, the UN agency UNRWA, has been able to access fuel in the last few days. This has given them a several day supply. But we are working urgently with the Egyptians and with the Israelis to make sure that fuel does begin to flow into Gaza. Because it is absolutely critical that people have access to fuel in the hospitals, in the desal [ination] plants, and in other ways.

MR. ALMEHRABI (via translation): What we are seeing today at Al-Shifa Hospital is, they are saying the electricity will go off in a few hours there and at other hospitals. Is the U.S. working with Egypt and Israel to be sure hospitals will receive it?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: We are working, as I said, very closely with the Israelis and with the Egyptians, and with our partners on the ground, primarily through the UN in Gaza to get fuel into Gaza and to get it distributed to those who legitimately need it – to hospitals, and actually also to the trucks that have to deliver the medical supplies that are coming in, the food that is coming in. I mean they need fuel too. It's no good to open the crossing if trucks can't move and distribute the humanitarian assistance, so it's hospitals, its trucks, it's also we know that some of the desalination plants need fuel. So access to clean water is dependent on fuel. So we recognize that fuel is a big part of the humanitarian equation and we're doing everything we can working at highest diplomatic levels to get some fuel flowing.

MR. ALMEHRABI (via translation): On the 25 of October, the State Department said that we have asked all parties to open the Rafah border. What is the role of the U.S. to keep the border open for aid.

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: Well, the pressure, as you noted, has to be on all parties to keep Rafah open. It has to be enabled by the Egyptians on their side of the border. Certainly the Israelis have a big role to play in this. And then our partners on the ground. And of course, the de facto authorities inside Gaza, you know, they have to create an environment that enables humanitarian assistance to flow in too. So the old parties have to come together, to allow Rafah to stay open and that crossing and then, frankly, we're going to need alternative crossings open to meet the full scale of what's needed for humanitarian assistance.

But right now, the focus is on making Rafah as efficient and effective as it can be. As you noted, when it started, it was very insufficient, only about eight or 10 trucks on that first day. We're now up to 100 trucks a day almost, you know, going through but that has to be sustained every single day. And even then, it's not going to meet the need. We know that 100 trucks a day would only meet about 20 percent of the need that existed prior to the war. So there's already a backlog – we need to get a lot more assistance in. And that requires having a bigger international staff in Al Arish to help with logistics and facilitation at the crossing itself.

MR. ALMEHRABI (via translation): Thank you very much, Isobel Coleman. Joining us from USAID in Washington, DC.


USAID Response in Israel and Gaza - October 2023
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