Dec 21, 2023 - World

Gaza's entire population facing crisis levels of hunger, risk of famine, report finds

Displaced Palestinians, living in a tent camp in the city of Deir Al Balah, wait to receive soup from volunteers. Photo: Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images

Gaza's entire population — more than 2.2 million people — is facing crisis or worse levels of hunger, with the risk of famine increasing every day as Israel's ground offensive and bombardment of the enclave continues, a UN-backed body said in a report on Thursday.

The big picture: It is the highest share of people facing such levels of food insecurity that has ever been reported by the multi-partner body known as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), which monitors global hunger.

  • "These are not just numbers — there are individual children, women and men behind these alarming statistics," said World Food Program chief economist Arif Husain said in a statement. "The complexity, magnitude and speed that this crisis has unfolded is unprecedented."

Zoom in: About 50% of Gaza's population is facing emergency levels of food insecurity, while more than half a million Palestinians — about 26% of the population — have exhausted their food supplies and are facing catastrophic conditions, the IPC report said.

  • "Virtually all households are skipping meals every day," it added.
  • The report warned there is a risk of famine occurring in the next six months if the "intense conflict and restricted humanitarian access persists or worsens."
  • The report noted conditions are particularly acute in northern Gaza, which largely remains inaccessible to aid groups due to the fighting and Israel's control over certain areas.
  • "The situation in Gaza is clearly catastrophic for all sectors and requires an extremely urgent political response, together with a full multisectoral and strategically balanced humanitarian response," the IPC said.

What they're saying: Palestinians have described extremely dire conditions in Gaza. "The war has shattered hope for the future and removed the luxury of choice. Here, mothers must go hungry in order to feed their children with what little food they have," a staffer with the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) in Gaza wrote in a blog post earlier this week.

  • The World Food Program on Thursday reiterated that "no one in Gaza is safe from starvation."

Aid groups also called the IPC report an "extreme warning" to the international community.

  • "It's beyond unacceptable that we have reached yet another tipping point in Gaza — this time, death by starvation, to add to the thousands killed by airstrikes," Mercy Corps CEO Tjada D'Oyen McKenna said in a statement, adding that the group's staff in Gaza say almost no food is available to buy in the enclave.

Zoom out: Israel is facing growing pressure worldwide to agree to a ceasefire, as conditions in Gaza continue to deteriorate.

  • More than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began. The health system has also largely collapsed, with only nine of the 36 hospitals in the enclave partially operational, according to the World Health Organization.
  • Israel has so far resisted calls for a permanent ceasefire, saying it will remain in Gaza at least until it achieves its goal of destroying Hamas and securing the release of all the hostages the militant group kidnapped during the Oct. 7 terrorist attack.

Under U.S. pressure, the Israeli government earlier this month agreed to open the Kerem Shalom crossing, known as Kerem Abu Salem in Gaza, between Israel and the Strip to allow more aid trucks into the enclave.

  • But the level of aid reaching Gaza remains only a fraction of what is needed, aid groups have repeatedly said in calling for a humanitarian ceasefire.
  • Less than 200 trucks carrying aid entered the enclave on Wednesday — well below the 500 that crossed the border before the war, according to the UN aid office.

What to watch: The UN Security Council is expected to vote later Thursday on a resolution calling for the urgent suspension of hostilities in Gaza to allow more desperately needed aid to get to Palestinians in the enclave via all land, sea and air routes.

  • The vote was initially expected earlier this week but was delayed after the U.S. expressed concerns and asked for more time to negotiate the language of the UAE-led draft resolution.
  • The current draft calls for the establishment of a UN mechanism "to exclusively monitor all humanitarian relief consignments to Gaza provided through land, sea and air routes of those States that are not parties to the conflict." Such a mechanism is strongly opposed by Israel, which currently monitors and controls all aid entering the enclave.

Go deeper: Lives in Gaza "hang by thread" as hospital and humanitarian systems collapse

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