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Famine in northern Gaza “imminent” – WFP

Half of Gaza’s population, or 1.1 million people, have completely exhausted their food supplies and face “catastrophic hunger” in the conflict-ridden Palestinian territory, the World Food Programme (WFP) has said.

Citing a new report, WFP has heightened international focus on the suffering caused by Israel’s five-month-long offensive and blockades on humanitarian aid intended for Gazan citizens.

Human rights organisations have accused Israel of using starvation as a method of warfare – a war crime.

“The life-saving aid which families across Gaza rely on has either been drip-fed or denied by Israeli authorities, while essential services have been decimated by ongoing fighting,” says Emily Wight, global media manager at NGO Save the Children.

Gazans already “fasting for months” as Ramadan begins

WFP’s announcement comes just days after the UN warned that one in three children under the age of two in northern Gaza are now suffering from acute malnutrition, a rate that has doubled since January. 

Malnutrition can cause stunting, impede physical and mental development, heighten the risk of contracting deadly diseases, and ultimately result in death.

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At least 23 children have been confirmed dead due to malnutrition and dehydration, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health.

Alarms over widespread hunger, pending famine and barely functional hospitals have coincided with the beginning of Ramadan.

The arrival of a holy month when Muslims fast during daylight is a cruel irony in Gaza where “people have already been fasting for months”, as put by Dr Amjad Eleiwa, deputy director of al-Shifa hospital’s emergency department in Gaza City.

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) took control of al-Shifa hospital after an overnight raid yesterday which deployed tanks and heavy gunfire.

The IDF told the 30,000 people trapped inside the hospital to relocate further south in Gaza – despite there being limited transport still available and most citizens left weak and debilitated after months without sufficient nutrition.

“It is worth remembering that these [23 children] are the children whose families have made it to health facilities, and with people in Gaza cut off from medical access, the real figure is likely much higher,” Wight tells Medical Device Network. “For these children time has already run out, and the clock is ticking for the 1.1 million remaining and for their families across Gaza.”

“Unsafe, costly, inefficient” airdrops and maritime corridors

Israel’s blockades on aid into Gaza through traditional access points on land has prompted international aid efforts to focus on alternative air and sea routes into Gaza.

France, Jordan, Egypt, the UAE and the US have used airdrops as the principal method but have been criticised by aid groups.

“Alternative methods of aid delivery like airdrops and maritime corridors or temporary ports are unsafe, costly, inefficient and a distraction from the critical solution to save the lives of children and families in Gaza,” Wight says. “There have been multiple incidents reported of airdrop malfunctions resulting in at least five Palestinian casualties including a child and several injuries.”

A test run of the proposed maritime corridor of aid saw the Open Arms vessel arrive in Gaza from the Port of Larnaca, Cyprus, on Friday (15 March) after days of delay.

Palestinians are still awaiting distribution of the 200 tonnes of rice, flour and other foods this first delivery shipped, as a second aid ship is expected to sail for Gaza over the coming week.

WFP estimates that simply addressing the basic food needs will require at least 300 trucks need to enter Gaza every day, especially in the north.

However, WFP has only managed to distribute nine convoys to the north since the start of 2024. The most recent convoy, on Sunday (17 March), involved 18 truckloads of food supplies delivered to Gaza City.

“There is already a tried and tested system in place to effectively co-ordinate aid, but trucks of food and medicines that could save lives are waiting at crossings, while children are starving just miles away,” says Wight. “The international community should instead insist that the government of Israel upholds its duty to allow and facilitate humanitarian aid.”

On the ground in Rafah

Najy*, a 32-year-old father of six who was displaced from Wadi Gaza by Israel’s offensive, spoke to Save the Children staff about the lack of food in Rafah and wider Gaza.

“I have been in contact with my relatives in northern Gaza – my first cousin was shot in the head while trying to get some aid,” Najy says. “His mother has been crying for more than four days now. She says they fast for Ramadan and cannot find anything to break their fast.”

Even when hungry families find food or drinkable water, scarcity has seen prices skyrocket.

One kilo of flour in northern Gaza is currently estimated to cost between 70 and 90 Shekels ($19 to $24), an unfathomable sum for many Palestinians.

These prices have forced people to eat hay, grass and other cattle food.

Mariam*, a Save the Children staff member in Rafah, says her one-year-old nephew is suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) – a condition that weakens the immune system. He is currently on a ventilator in an ICU.  

“He has a swollen belly and irregular breathing due to an upper respiratory tract infection,” Mariam says. “This ordeal began two months ago when he was forced to relocate to a tent in Rafah. Shortly after, he started experiencing severe vomiting and diarrhoea.”

“Now, owing to the harsh living conditions in the tents and the dearth of accessible healthcare services, he has been admitted to the ICU and is receiving mechanical ventilation. His mother said: “I am seeing my son dying and can’t do anything, It’s really heartbreaking.”

*The above names have been changed to protect anonymity.

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