Parts of Gaza Are in Famine, World Food Program Chief Says

The director of the World Food Program, Cindy McCain, says that parts of the Gaza Strip are experiencing a “full-blown famine” that is rapidly spreading throughout the territory after almost seven months of war.

Ms. McCain is the second high-profile American leading a U.S. government or U.N. aid effort who has said that there is famine in northern Gaza, although her remarks do not constitute an official declaration, which is a complex bureaucratic process.

“There is famine — full-blown famine in the north, and it’s moving its way south,” Ms. McCain said in excerpts released on Friday of an interview with “Meet the Press.” The interviewer, Kristen Welker, asked Ms. McCain to repeat herself.

“What you are saying is significant,” Ms. Welker said. “You are saying there is full-blown famine in northern Gaza?”

“Yes, I am,” Ms. McCain replied. “Yes, I am.”

The first American official to say there was famine in Gaza during the conflict was Samantha Power, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, who made her remarks in congressional testimony last month.

Ms. McCain was appointed by President Biden as the American ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture in 2021 and became head of the W.F.P., a U.N. agency, last year.

An official declaration of famine typically involves both the United Nations and the government of the country where the famine is taking place, and it is unclear what local authority might have the power to do that in Gaza.

In the interview, Ms. McCain did not explain why an official famine declaration has not been made. But she said her assessment was “based on what we have seen and what we have experienced on the ground.”

“It is horror,” she said. “It is so hard to look at, and it is so hard to hear, also. I am so hoping we can get a cease-fire and begin to feed these people, especially in the north, in a much faster fashion.”

Gaza has been gripped by what experts have called a severe human-made hunger crisis as a result of Israeli bombardment and restrictions that have made delivering aid to the territory extremely challenging. The amount of aid entering Gaza has increased recently, but aid groups say it is far from adequate.

For the first several weeks of the war, Israel maintained what it called a “complete siege” of Gaza, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant saying that “no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel” would be allowed into the territory. The Israeli military also destroyed Gaza’s port, restricted fishing and bombed many of its farms.

Israel eventually loosened that siege but instituted a meticulous inspection process that it says is necessary to ensure that supplies do not fall into the hands of Hamas. Aid groups and foreign diplomats have said the inspections create bottlenecks, and have accused Israel of using them to turn away aid for spurious reasons, including water filters, solar lights and medical kits that contain scissors.

Volker Türk, the U.N. human rights chief, said in a statement last month that Israel’s policies regarding aid in Gaza could amount to a war crime.

Israel has faced increasing pressure in recent weeks to allow aid into Gaza after its military killed seven international aid workers from World Central Kitchen in an airstrike.

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