Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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UN says famine imminent in north Gaza, an ‘unprecedented’ crisis

Displaced Palestinians fleeing from the area in the vicinity of Gaza City's al-Shifa hospital arrive via the coastal highway at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on 18 March 2024 amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)


Displaced Palestinians fleeing from the area in the vicinity of Gaza City’s al-Shifa hospital arrive via the coastal highway at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on 18 March 2024 amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

  • A UN-backed food
    security assessment has warned that half of Gazans are experiencing
    “catastrophic” hunger.
  • Famine is projected
    to hit the north of the territory by May unless there is urgent intervention.
  • The situation is
    particularly dire in the north of Gaza, where the UN says there are about 300 000
    people.
     

Half of
Gazans are experiencing “catastrophic” hunger, with famine projected
to hit the north of the territory by May unless there is urgent intervention, a
United Nations-backed food security assessment warned Monday.

“People
in Gaza are starving to death right now. The speed at which this man-made
hunger and malnutrition crisis has ripped through Gaza is terrifying,”
said Cindy McCain, head of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).

The
Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) partnership on Monday
estimated that 1.1 million people – half the population, according to UN data –
were facing catastrophic conditions.

“To
have 50 percent of an entire population in catastrophic, near-famine levels, is
unprecedented,” Beth Bechdol, deputy director general of the UN’s Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO), told AFP.

The WFP
said this was the “highest number of people ever recorded as facing
catastrophic hunger” under the IPC system, originally developed in 2004.

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The
situation is particularly dire in the north of Gaza, where the UN says there
are about 300 000 people – and where the IPC said famine was “imminent…
projected to occur anytime between mid-March and May”.

Martin
Griffiths, the UN’s humanitarian chief, called for Israel to allow unfettered
access for aid to the besieged Palestinian territory, saying there was “no
time to lose”.

He said:

The international community should hang its head in shame for failing to stop this.

US State
Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said the findings were
“alarming”, and revealed a “heartwrenching” picture of
“children who are starving”.

“That
is why we believe so strongly that everything must be done to scale up the
delivery of humanitarian assistance,” he said.

‘Wasted’
children

The
bloodiest-ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack
on Israel on 7 October, to which Israel responded with a relentless bombing
campaign and ground offensive in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory.

With aid
agencies reporting huge difficulties gaining access to Gaza, particularly the
north, the UN has warned for weeks that a famine is looming.

The IPC
said Monday that while the technical criteria for famine had not yet been met,
“all evidence points towards a major acceleration of deaths and
malnutrition”.

The report
highlighted the horrific toll on children.

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“Hunger
is a slow and painful death,” said Hiba Tibi, country director for the
CARE international aid group, who reported aid workers seeing children
“who can barely talk and walk” for lack of food.

A famine is
declared when 20 percent of households face an extreme food shortage – which
is the case in Gaza, the UN says.

Other
criteria are that one in three children are acutely malnourished, and that at
least two in every 10 000 people die every day of starvation or malnutrition.

According
to the WFP, “one in three children below the age of two is now acutely
malnourished, or ‘wasted'”, meaning they are dangerously thin.

In a
statement, the World Health Organization pointed to the lasting effects of
malnutrition, particularly on children, warning that the “current
situation will have long-term effects on the lives and health of
thousands”.

It added:

This compromises the health and well-being of an entire future generation.

WFP chief
economist Arif Husain, said the final criteria for declaring a famine – the
mortality rate – could be met within weeks.

The FAO
said it could be already happening in the north, where data is patchy.

“Waiting
for a retrospective famine classification before acting is indefensible,”
the IPC said.

Aid convoys

Donors have
turned to deliveries by air or sea, but these are not viable alternatives to
land deliveries, UN agencies say.

Aid charity
Oxfam on Monday accused Israel of continuing to “systematically and
deliberately block and undermine” the delivery of aid into Gaza, in
violation of international humanitarian law.

Bechdol, of
the FAO, told AFP that Gazans are “turning to alternative sources”
for food, including animal feed and “inedible items, purely out of
desperation”.

ALSO READ | Oxfam says Israel ‘deliberately’ blocking aid to Gaza, failing ‘to prevent genocide’

Israel has
repeatedly defended its procedures for allowing aid into Gaza, with COGAT – a
defence ministry body governing civilian affairs in the occupied Palestinian
territories – saying in a statement on X that 222 trucks of supplies had
entered on Monday, two-thirds of them carrying food.

WFP said
meeting basic food needs would require at least 300 trucks to enter Gaza every
day, especially in the north.

The agency
has managed to get only nine convoys into the north since January, the latest
on Sunday night involving 18 truckloads of food supplies delivered to Gaza
City.

“Our
hope is we can still avert a full-fledged famine,” said the WFP’s Husain.

“But
the window is shutting and it is shutting very, very fast.”

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