Famine Is Imminent in Northern Gaza, UN-Backed Report Warns

(Bloomberg) -- The possibility of a famine looms over northern Gaza as half the population of the area already faces “crisis levels of food insecurity or worse,” the United Nations warned.

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Some 1.1 million people in Gaza – half of the population – have completely exhausted their food supplies and coping capacities and are struggling with catastrophic hunger, the World Food Programme said in a statement on Monday. Acute malnutrition in the war-torn region had stood at less than 1% before the recent fighting between Hamas and Israel erupted.

“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 WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain. “There is a very small window left to prevent an outright famine and to do that we need immediate and full access to the north.”

Israeli forces first entered Gaza in retaliation for Hamas’s surprise Oct. 7 attack that killed 1,200 people and led to more than 200 people being taken hostage. The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory says more than 31,000 Palestinians have died in the conflict.

Hamas is designated as a terrorist group by the US and European Union.

The report, backed by other UN agencies and international aid groups including UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and the World Bank, cites the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification system to count the number of people facing “catastrophic hunger” and starvation.

The IPC scale is a globally recognized system to categorize food security levels in a population.

The famine — even in northern Gaza — can be stemmed if aid agencies are allowed access to provide food, water, nutrition products, medicines, health and sanitation services, at scale, to the entire civilian population, the report added. “For this to be possible, a humanitarian ceasefire is necessary.”

The WFP estimates that even addressing the basic food needs will require at least 300 trucks to enter Gaza every day and distribute food, especially in the north. Since the start of the year, it has managed only nine convoys to the north. Israeli and Hamas officials have failed to come to a cease-fire agreement, adding to the difficulty of getting aid into the area.

Israel has been facing mounting global pressure to allow in more aid into the Gaza Strip, with US President Joe Biden directing the US military to establish a temporary port on the coast to ease the humanitarian crisis.

On Monday, European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and crisis commissioner Janez Lenarcic also called the report the “worst possible forecast for Gaza.”

“Over 30,000 people have already died due to the conflict, a large part of them children, and the death toll could rapidly increase due to starvation or diseases. There is an absolute imperative to act now.”

Israel says its own on-the-ground assessments differ from the UN’s and that while there are major problems with food distribution, there’s no widespread starvation in any part of Gaza.

Elad Goren, who works in the section of the Israeli military focused on civilian needs in Gaza and the West Bank, said at a briefing last Thursday: In terms of situation on the ground today, access to food remains stable in the south and center of Gaza Strip. There is also food making its way to the north. However, we would like to see more distribution there.”

--With assistance from Agnieszka de Sousa, Kevin Whitelaw and Alisa Odenheimer.

(Adds Israel’s view in 13th and 14th paragraphs)

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