Famine may already be in northern Gaza say leading aid groups

Famine may already be happening in northern Gaza and risks spreading across the besieged enclave, plunging 2.2 million Palestinians into the broadest and most severe food crisis in the world, the globe’s leading body on food emergencies said Monday.

The new report from a cluster of international organizations and charities known as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Initiative, or IPC, outlined a dire situation with more than half the population of Gaza — 1.1 million people — facing catastrophic levels of hunger and starvation.

Compared to the IPC’s previous analysis in December 2023, acute food insecurity in the Gaza Strip has deepened and widened, with nearly double the number of people projected to experience those conditions by July.

In the IPC’s five-tier classification of food crises, Gaza now has the largest percentage of a population to receive its most severe rating since the body began reporting in 2004, Beth Bechdol, deputy director general at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told The Washington Post.

By comparison, today in Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan — where millions are experiencing crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity — none of the population currently falls into the worst tier of catastrophic food shortages, Bechdol said.

People in areas designated at Tier 5 are considered to be “starving” and facing a significantly increased risk of acute malnutrition and death.

So, for Gaza to have 1.1 million people in IPC 5 is unprecedented,” she said. She added: “This is 100 percent a man-made crisis. There’s no hurricane, there’s no cyclone, there’s no 100-year flood. There’s no protracted year-on-year drought.”

The report is likely to add fuel to the increasingly sharp criticism of Israel from governments in the United States and Europe about the grim dimensions of the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza. On Monday, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, repeated his assertion that Israel was using starvation as a “weapon of war.” He noted that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had recently told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “we cannot stand by and watch Palestinians starve.”

“In Gaza we are no longer on the brink of famine; we are in a state of famine, affecting thousands of people,” Borrell said at the start of a conference on humanitarian aid for Gaza in Brussels. “This is unacceptable. Starvation is used as a weapon of war.”

“By whom?” he added. “Let’s dare to say by whom. By the one that prevents humanitarian support entering into Gaza.”

The IPC, an international initiative to classify food insecurity and malnutrition and assesses conditions, does not issue an official declaration of famine — a move left to senior local authorities or the highest United Nations official in an affected area. A famine designation would elevate the crisis to a major talking point at the U.N. Security Council and compel high-level crisis talks among humanitarian bodies and groups.

The publication of the IPC report will trigger an evidence assessment by a Famine Review Committee, made up of leading independent international food security, nutrition and mortality experts in the coming weeks. A famine in Gaza would come after one engulfed 80,000 people in South Sudan in 2017 and 490,000 people in Somalia in 2011.

The latest analysis was conducted remotely between Feb. 26 and March 1, by more than 40 experts from 18 agencies, IPC said. But the new assessment — the IPC’s grimmest to date — suggests that northern Gaza is either already in the grip of famine, or could reach that point anytime by May.

The findings in the latest report confirm warnings of impending famine in parts of Gaza, in the absence of a cease-fire, from U.N. and other aid agencies in recent months. In desperation, some in northern Gaza have resorted to eating animal feed, even grass, and at least 27 children have died of malnutrition in recent weeks, local health officials have said, underscoring the vast need.

Humanitarian officials blame the hunger crisis in the north on limited entry points for aid, a time-consuming Israeli inspection process and Israeli attacks on U.N. aid convoys and the police protecting them. Israel denies limiting the flow of aid to Gaza. It has accused the United Nations of failing to distribute food aid to those in need — or diverting it to Hamas.

Palestinian officials say more than 100 people were killed and 700 injured in Gaza City late last month after desperate civilians rushed an aid convoy, an incident that prompted the Biden administration to launch food drops into Gaza and express mounting frustration with Israeli controls on aid convoys into the enclave.

According to the new report, virtually all households in Gaza are skipping meals every day and adults are reducing their meals so that children can eat. In northern Gaza, people in nearly two-thirds of all households were going entire days and nights without eating at least 10 times in the last 30 days, with 1 in 3 children under the age of 2 “acutely malnourished.” In the southern areas of the enclave, about one-third of households faced conditions of going days and nights without food.

The report blamed the famine-like conditions in Gaza on the “widespread, intense, and relentless conflict” that has forced approximately 1.9 million people, or 85 percent of Gaza’s population, to flee their homes, with over 31,000 fatalities and 73,000 injuries reported by Gaza health authorities. Added to that are massive losses in infrastructure, including food production and distribution, and extremely limited humanitarian access.

“The escalation of hostilities has halted supplies of water, food and fuel, causing the collapse of all food-related sectors, including vegetable production, livestock production, and fisheries and aquaculture,” said Maximo Torero Cullen, the FAO’s chief economist. “Around 60 to 70 percent of meat and dairy-producing livestock in Gaza have been either killed or prematurely slaughtered to meet the dire food needs stemming from the conflict.”

An earlier IPC assessment of Gaza in December concluded that its entire population was highly food insecure and at risk of famine.

While ongoing hostilities are a key factor for the rapid deterioration of the situation, the new report said, the “extremely limited humanitarian access” to and within Gaza Strip has worsened matters.

In addition to the airdrops of small amounts of food, the first aid shipment by sea dispatched by nonprofit World Central Kitchen reached Gaza last week. But experts say these alone cannot contain the emergency.

They are important. They are helpful to the overall situation, but they are not at a level that would reverse the trend,” Bechdol said.

Beatriz Rios contributed to this report.

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