Over 500,000 People In War-Torn Gaza On Verge Of Famine, Warns UN

As of the end of February, a staggering 576,000 people in Gaza, constituting one-quarter of the population, are on the brink of famine. Shockingly, 1 in 6 children under two years of age in northern Gaza suffers from acute malnutrition.

Oshi Saxena
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Image Credits: © UNICEF/Abed Zagout

As the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalates in the Gaza Strip, a dire humanitarian emergency is unfolding, particularly in northern Gaza. The World Food Programme (WFP) has issued a stark warning, asserting that famine is "imminent" in the region, as the situation has become increasingly critical as humanitarian aid has been unable to reach the area since January 23, leaving thousands of Palestinians in desperate need.


The United Nations has also previously issued an urgent warning about a looming sanitation crisis in the Gaza Strip, describing the situation as a potential "perfect storm for tragedy", as the region grapples not only with fuel shortages, which are threatening the collapse of sanitation services but also with a communication blackout. The critical shortage of fuel has led to the breakdown of internet and telephone services, intensifying the challenges faced by citizens who are already struggling against starvation.

Simultaneously, the UN's World Food Programme has sounded the alarm, declaring an impending crisis in Gaza  where civilians teeter on the edge of starvation, gripped by an acute shortage of essential resources such as food and water.

The Human Toll of a Prolonged Conflict

According to the latest report from the Hamas-run Health Ministry, the death toll has tragically surged to 29,782, a figure that not only shocks but also stresses the magnitude of the crisis engulfing Gaza. Within the span of a mere 24 hours, 90 precious lives were lost, and 164 individuals were grievously wounded, adding to the already staggering toll of casualties. These numbers, while stark, fail to capture the full extent of the human suffering unfolding in Gaza.

Amidst the chaos and devastation, countless individuals find themselves trapped under debris, their cries for help drowned out by the roar of airstrikes and the rattle of gunfire. Ambulances and civil defence teams, tasked with the noble duty of saving lives, are met with insurmountable obstacles as Israeli forces obstruct access to those in need.

While the focus often remains on the Palestinian casualties, it is essential to acknowledge that the toll of violence extends beyond the borders of Gaza. In a separate statement, the Israeli army confirmed that five of its soldiers sustained serious injuries in the ongoing clashes.


Food Dilemma In Gaza

Food and water, once lifelines, have now become "practically non-existent," pushing the populace towards the immediate possibility of starvation. 

WFP's deputy executive director, Carl Skau, delivered a sobering message to the UN Security Council, emphasizing the urgency of the situation. He stated unequivocally, "If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza." The gravity of the crisis is further underlined by Ramesh Rajasingham from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who warned of "almost inevitable" widespread starvation.

Israeli forces' blockade preventing aid from entering northern Gaza has aggravated the crisis. While aid sporadically reaches other parts of the territory, the north remains isolated. Martin Griffiths, the UN aid chief, has urged the Security Council to take action against "the use of starvation of civilian populations as a method of warfare."

During the Security Council session, multiple proposals were put forth, with a common emphasis on the critical need for a ceasefire to facilitate the delivery of life-saving aid. The restoration of humanitarian space is crucial to ensuring the efficient distribution of assistance to those in dire need. Algeria's ambassador also strongly condemned the weaponization of starvation, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and accountability for all parties involved in perpetuating the crisis.

OCHA's Rajasingham reveals that one-quarter of Gaza's population, equivalent to 576,000 people, is on the brink of famine. Shockingly, one in six children under two years of age in northern Gaza is suffering from acute malnutrition and wasting.


Blocked Aid and Urgent Supplies

Despite the dire circumstances, aid is ready and waiting at the border. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, disclosed that WFP has food supplies at the Gaza border, ready to feed up to 2.2 million people with certain conditions. Almost 1,000 trucks carrying 15,000 metric tons of food are in Egypt, ready to move.

However, Israeli forces are allegedly "systematically" blocking access to Gaza, according to Jens Laerke, OCHA's spokesperson. All planned aid convoys into the north have been denied, exacerbating an already critical situation.

The blame game intensifies as Israeli deputy ambassador to the UN, Jonathan Miller, denies Israel's role in blocking aid trucks. Miller contends that the UN must distribute aid "more effectively" and asserts that there is no limit to the humanitarian aid that can be sent to Gaza. He claims that Israel has denied only 16 percent of aid requests in 2024, citing concerns about aid falling into the hands of Hamas.

UNRWA, the main UN aid agency in Gaza, is facing unprecedented challenges. Donor funding freezes, coupled with Israeli pressure to dismantle the organization, have pushed it to a breaking point. As humanitarian needs soar, urgent calls for Israel to "facilitate the opening of additional crossings" for aid echo through the international community.

International Response and Accountability


The US Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Robert Wood, emphasized the need for Israel to do more to facilitate aid access. The international community, represented by Slovenian ambassador Samuel Zbogar, acknowledges the delayed action, stating, "We should all have been convinced by now that our action is needed, indeed was needed a long time ago."

Fuel Shortages & Water Crisis 

Adding to the complexity of the crisis is the shortage of fuel, which hinders the timely delivery of food to those in dire need. Trucks arriving from Egypt were unable to reach their destinations due to insufficient fuel. The World Food Programme stressed the critical role of fuel in the humanitarian effort, emphasizing that the lack thereof impedes the delivery of life-saving supplies.

Compounding the issue is the dire state of water resources in Gaza. Reportedly, 97 percent of groundwater in the region is unfit for human consumption. Agricultural production is also on the verge of collapse, according to Maurizio Martina, deputy director general of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

With the imminent threat of winter, the lack of clean water compounds the crisis. The executive director of the Rome-based WFP, Cindy McCain, expressed deep concern over the unsafe, overcrowded shelters that now house vulnerable civilians and underscored the severity of the situation, emphasizing the imminent need to address the water crisis to prevent a dual catastrophe.

Gaza Faces Looming Sanitation Crisis

The United Nations raised concerns on November 21st about the deteriorating sanitation conditions in the Gaza Strip, describing it as a potential "perfect storm for tragedy." Fuel shortages, coupled with worsening sanitation, pose a serious threat to the region, creating a fertile ground for the spread of diseases, according to UNICEF, the UN children's agency.

UNICEF spokesman James Elder, addressing the media via video-link from Cairo, emphasized the gravity of the situation. "Without enough fuel, we will see the collapse of sanitation services. So we have then, on top of the mortars and the bombs, a perfect storm for the spread of disease," Elder stated during a press briefing in Geneva.

Elder further highlighted the increased risk to life in Gaza due to an estimated 800,000 children being displaced from their homes. The combination of fuel shortages, compromised sanitation, and the displacement of a significant number of children has created a concerning scenario, urging immediate attention to avert a potential humanitarian crisis in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Shifa Hospital: Navigating Allegations and Realities

The Israeli military's search of Shifa Hospital, Gaza's largest, raises concerns about the impact on healthcare services. With the hospital lacking electricity for nearly a week, medical staff grapple with caring for premature babies and dialysis patients.

Allegations of Hamas using the hospital as a command centre prompt scrutiny, with Israel providing limited evidence to support its claim. The international community awaits conclusive evidence as Israel contends that Hamas utilizes Palestinians as human shields, contributing to the high number of civilian casualties during the prolonged bombardment.

The Communication Blackout: Implications and Challenges

The breakdown of communication networks intensifies the severe humanitarian crisis in southern Gaza. With international pressure mounting on Israel to pause hostilities for aid delivery, the scarcity of essential resources such as food, water, and electricity deepens. The United Nations raises alarm over relief efforts jeopardized by fuel shortages.

Significantly, the communication breakdown isolates Gaza's 2.3 million people, cutting them off from each other and the outside world. This isolation amplifies the challenges faced by those in southern Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes persist. The mass evacuation to the north, as advised by Israel, prompts concerns about the fate of the displaced population if the assault extends southward, particularly with Egypt refusing mass transfers onto its soil.

Palnet, the main Palestinian telecoms provider, reports a network halt due to fuel shortages, raising concerns about a potential long-term communications blackout. Efforts to restore the network depend on Israel allowing fuel supplies, adding a layer of complexity to an already challenging situation.

The blackout not only hampers humanitarian operations and hospitals but also impedes international media coverage of events on the ground. With Israel refusing fuel entry into Gaza, citing concerns about diversion to Hamas, the communication blackout becomes a critical aspect of the evolving crisis.

Israel Gaza Conflict Gaza Crisis