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Aid worker describes a Rafah on the edge of catastrophe

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Rafah border crossing is the only way for aid to get into Gaza from Egypt. And since Israel seized control of that checkpoint four days ago, this lifeline has been cut off. The flow of medical supplies and food has stopped. Israel says this is necessary to achieve its military objective of dismantling Hamas. Dorotea Gucciardo is the director of development for a Canadian humanitarian group called Glia, and she is in West Rafah. Welcome.

DOROTEA GUCCIARDO: Hi, Ari - nice to connect with you.

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SHAPIRO: When Israel took control of the border crossing, did you see an immediate difference in the amount of aid entering Gaza through the South? Could you tell?

GUCCIARDO: There was an immediate stop to aid entering not just in material supply but also in the amount of humanitarian workers. Nobody could get in or get out.

SHAPIRO: And that was at a point that people were already suffering from hunger and sickness. So what was the impact of that over the last few days?

GUCCIARDO: So when it comes to medical work that we're doing within the hospitals, the most reliable way for us to be bringing any kind of equipment, supplies or medicine has been through the Rafah crossing. So as delegates are coming in, they bring the medicine, they bring the supplies, they bring the equipment in their luggages. It's not enough. It's never been enough, but it was something. As soon as that border crossing closed, nothing was coming through. And the supplies that existed, which were already low, are now completely depleted.

SHAPIRO: And so what has that meant for your interactions with the people who you're trying to serve?

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GUCCIARDO: Honestly, despite our best intentions, it's substandard care. I mean, we don't even have basic things like soap - right? -soap in the labor delivery room, soap in the neonatal intensive care unit, where the most vulnerable patients are located. So if you can imagine that even the most basic levels of supplies are not available, it's dire. Patients will absolutely suffer from this. People will die from this. And we need that border to reopen.

SHAPIRO: Well, just in the next 24 hours, the U.N. says a number of Gaza's health facilities may run out of fuel because so little has been entering Gaza through Rafah since Israel took over that border crossing. What would the consequences of that be?

GUCCIARDO: Hospitals cannot run without fuel, right? Fuel isn't just for cars or for ambulances. It's the electricity that powers the hospitals. It means we're going to see fuel being cut off from the maternity hospital, from the powering of the incubators that at least 25 children are being taken care of in. You know, these are premature babies. Some of these babies are the size of my hand. So cutting off fuel isn't just some abstract question to me. It means something very real, right? It means death. And Israel has already killed dozens of newborns since the war began through this very method of cutting electricity off. If these hospitals don't get fuel, then every single one of those babies will die.

SHAPIRO: In addition to the challenges of hunger and sickness, we are talking to you in the middle of a war. And Israel issued evacuation orders for the eastern part of Rafah earlier this week ahead of an expected ground operation. Have you been seeing or hearing fighting or air strikes where you are in West Rafah?

GUCCIARDO: Absolutely. I'm becoming far too knowledgeable about artillery than I would like to be. I'm hearing constant bombs, constant artillery shelling. It seems to be concentrated mostly in East Rafah, but the shelling can go much farther, and it has gone much farther. And there have been air strikes around my neighborhood.

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SHAPIRO: You were scheduled to leave Gaza on Monday, and then the border closed. Are you effectively trapped?

GUCCIARDO: Correct. I was intending to leave on Monday, and I have not been able to exit as a result of the Israeli military occupying the Rafah border.

SHAPIRO: How does that make you feel?

GUCCIARDO: I mean, look. I am stuck in Gaza, along with other foreign aid workers and along with 2 million Palestinians who are living in the occupied Gaza Strip, right? We're all trapped. Palestinians have been trapped for 17 years. Foreign aid workers like myself have been trapped for three days. You know, the primary objective of my team is not our exit. It's that we're not abandoning our patients. And the only way that we can do that is to allow all types of aid in and not just some token amount of internationals and minimal supplies.

SHAPIRO: Dorotea Gucciardo is with the Canadian humanitarian group Glia, speaking with us from Rafah. Thank you.

GUCCIARDO: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.
Christopher Intagliata
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.