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Half a million in Gaza face starvation: Report

Israel, under intense pressure from global governments and aid organizations, only recently opened border crossings for aid in the north.
Last Updated : 25 June 2024, 14:40 IST

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The Gaza Strip is at high risk of famine and almost half a million people there face starvation because of a catastrophic lack of food, a group of global experts said Tuesday, though it stopped short of saying that a famine had begun in the enclave as a result of the Israel-Hamas war.

The experts said the amount of food reaching northern Gaza had increased in recent months. Israel, under intense pressure from global governments and aid organizations, recently opened border crossings for aid in the north.

The analysis by the group, called the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, carries considerable weight. The group is a partnership of UN bodies and major relief agencies, and global leaders look to it to gauge the severity of hunger crises and allocate humanitarian aid.

After Hamas led a deadly attack on Israel on Oct. 7, Israeli officials declared a siege of Gaza, and they have severely restricted the entry of humanitarian aid, saying they do not want it to help Hamas. From October to early May, the daily number of aid trucks entering the territory through the two main crossing points in southern Gaza dropped around 75%, according to UN data, and reports of hunger and malnourishment have been widespread.

Israeli officials have said for months that there is no limit on the amount of food and other aid that can enter Gaza. In recent weeks, Israel has increased the number of commercial vehicles carrying food and other goods across the border.

While acknowledging the hunger in Gaza, Israeli officials have accused Hamas of stealing or diverting aid. Ismael Thawabteh, deputy head of the Hamas government media office in Gaza, said last month that those allegations were "absolutely false and incorrect." He added that, while there had been some looting of relief supplies, it had been done by a small number of people who had been forced into desperation by Israel.

Some Palestinians in Gaza have also accused Hamas of benefiting from looted aid.

The IPC report said that almost all of Gaza's population of around 2.2 million faced high levels of acute food insecurity, and it put Gaza at Phase 4, the "emergency" phase, on its five-level classification scale. But it also said that 495,000 people faced "catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity," which is Phase 5 on the scale.

"In this phase, households experience an extreme lack of food, starvation, and exhaustion of coping capacities," the report said.

In March, the IPC predicted that famine would likely occur in northern Gaza by the end of May. But on Tuesday, it said that the amount of food and other nutrition delivered there had increased in March and April.

Those increases "appear to have temporarily alleviated conditions" in the north, the report said, adding, "In this context, the available evidence does not indicate that famine is currently occurring."

In early May, Israel's military sent ground troops into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, and more than a million people, many of whom had previously been displaced from their homes, fled to a coastal area that lacks basic infrastructure, making them acutely vulnerable.

The military operation closed the Rafah border crossing from Egypt and disrupted aid deliveries at the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel. The situation in the south has since deteriorated, the report said.

The IPC said that to be able to buy food, more than half of households in Gaza "had to exchange their clothes for money, and one-third resorted to picking up trash to sell." It added that more than half of households often did not have any food to eat and that more than 20% went full days and nights without eating.

The IPC identifies a famine when at least 20% of households in an area face an extreme lack of food, at least 30% of children suffer from acute malnutrition and at least two adults or four children for every 10,000 people die each day from starvation or disease linked to malnutrition. Since the IPC was established in 2004, its approach has been used to identify only two famines: in Somalia in 2011, and in South Sudan in 2017.

After the group's warning in March that Gaza was at risk of imminent famine, South Africa asked the U.N.'s highest court, the International Court of Justice, to issue emergency orders for Israel to stop what it called the "genocidal starvation" of the Palestinian people. The request was part of South Africa's broader case that accuses Israel of genocide in Gaza, a charge that Israel rejects.

A month ago, the court, which is based in The Hague, ordered Israel to "immediately" halt its military offensive in Rafah, and it emphasized the need for open land crossings as part of its request for "the unhindered provision" of humanitarian aid. The Rafah offensive continues, but the order increased global pressure on Israel to scale back its attacks and limit civilian casualties.

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Published 25 June 2024, 14:40 IST

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