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Aid groups say land deliveries should be a priority over airdrops, maritime corridors

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The United Nations warns that famine is imminent in the Gaza Strip, where hunger now affects the entire population. To try and alleviate this catastrophe, dozens of human rights and humanitarian organizations are calling on international governments to prioritize a cease-fire and ground deliveries of food, water and other relief supplies. They say airdrops and a maritime corridor are not viable alternatives to delivery by land. One of those groups is the Danish Refugee Council. Its secretary-general is Charlotte Slente. She's also a former ambassador from Denmark to Israel. And she joins us now from Copenhagen. Welcome to the program.

CHARLOTTE SLENTE: Thank you very much, and good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. I want to start with why airdrops and a maritime corridor can't replace deliveries of food, water and medicine by land.

SLENTE: Well, let me just start by saying that the situation in Gaza is actually horrendous. So we are seeing families who spend days without eating, who live from unsafe water supplies, immense levels of human suffering on the ground. And that is obviously a situation where you cannot rely exclusively on airdrops and on maritime corridors that might be installed in a few weeks time. We see that the airdrops - I mean, basically they deliver or they provide for a much smaller percentage of carriage, of tonnage than, for instance, the trucks that do get into Gaza can deliver.

FADEL: So what...

SLENTE: The airdrops are more expensive as well.

FADEL: Yeah.

SLENTE: And there are risks with this kind of supplies as well.

FADEL: Right. We've seen that with the reported killing of people when aid fell on them. What happens to people in Gaza if land deliveries don't increase?

SLENTE: I mean, what we will see is that the humanitarian suffering will continue and will get worse.

FADEL: And without a cease-fire, can you deliver enough humanitarian support?

SLENTE: I mean, we must have the international community to secure a cease-fire now to prevent more civilian lives in Gaza to be lost. Humanitarian organizations that work in Gaza must have unhindered access to provide the vital aid to the families affected by the latest escalation. We must have water, food, fuel, medicine into Gaza to reach the population. And all of this cannot happen without transfers via land. Basically, we have trucks out there for - waiting for days and weeks to get in and deliver humanitarian assistance that is vital for the population on the ground.

FADEL: One of the things the Israeli government says is they don't want weapons to get in through these crossings. What are you saying to the Israeli government to show that aid isn't a risk to their security?

SLENTE: I mean, we have - there is scrutiny taking place on the land openings, on the land corridors there. But we need all the corridors to be open...

FADEL: There's only 2 of 7 open, yeah.

SLENTE: ...To have more aid in - delivered overland into Gaza.

FADEL: You mentioned things that are being blocked. Why are things like anesthetics, anesthesia machines, oxygen cylinders, water filtration systems - why are those being blocked?

SLENTE: They are not getting in. I mean, we are basically seeing that the Israeli authorities are hindering that humanitarian assistance can be brought in in numbers and size that is necessary. And there, we must call on the international community to not hide behind airdrops or floating ports and maritime corridors to create an illusion that they are doing enough to support the needs in Gaza.

FADEL: We heard the main military spokesman for Israel yesterday say it plans to flood Gaza with humanitarian aid under mounting international pressure, including accusations that Israel's using food as a weapon of war, something Israel denies. Are you seeing any evidence that the aid to Gaza is now increasing?

SLENTE: No, we are not seeing any evidence that aid to Gaza is increasing at this moment in time, and that's why we actually call on the international community to secure a cease-fire now to prevent more civilian lives in Gaza from being lost, but also to secure that there is a continued and massive pressure on Israel to ensure that humanitarian assistance can get into Gaza in the size that is required in Gaza.

FADEL: That's Charlotte Slente, secretary-general of the Danish Refugee Council. Thank you for your time.

SLENTE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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