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Gaza and Ukraine at #EHF2024

It was good to be back at the European Humanitarian Forum for a second year running even though my panel topics were grim.  Last year’s event which is co-organised by the European Commission (DG ECHO) and the Belgian presidency was dominated by the war in Ukraine.  This year the humanitarian crisis in Gaza set the tone. EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell opened the conference saying that “starvation was being used as a weapon of war”.


I must confess I felt a certain amount of trepidation preparing for the high profile panel: Addressing the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza: access challenges and more effective solutions at the European Humanitarian Forum 2024.


As a news anchor I covered the Middle East and interviewed many of the key spokespeople in Israel Palestinian conflict, but this was different. The panellists with exception of the Belgian development cooperation minister Caroline Gennez were leaders of humanitarian agencies, all dealing with the dire fallout of the Israeli invasion of Gaza following the Hamas attacks of 7 October in which 1200 Israeli civilians and security forces were killed and over 240 hostages taken.


Invited by the European Commission to facilitate the high level panel, my role as moderator was to question the panellists and steer a lively debate but remain cognisant of political sensitivities and neutrality of humanitarian agencies. What emerged was a heart rending picture of conditions in Gaza:  the frustration that the trucks loaded with lifesaving food and medical supplies are visible from Rafah but blocked from entering. The UN backed IPC (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification) says that 1.1 million people - virtually half the population of Gaza - is already starving and the rest of the people there could be in a famine by July. In addition zero sanitation and destroyed health facilities threatens lives.




Health care under attack was the subject of my second panel but this time it was Russia’s war on healthcare provision in Ukraine under the spotlight.  A sobering subject but the panel turned out to be surprisingly uplifting. Despite over 1,000 attacks on health centres, interruptions to treatment and supplies, the health system continues to function with the hard work of Ukrainian health workers and support from local and international humanitarian agencies and donors such as Germany. A huge mental health crisis from war related trauma looms large. Despite the war Ukraine is reforming its health system with the dual aims of delivering high quality health care to all residents and meeting the requirements of Ukraine’s EU accession strategy.




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