UN calls on world to 'flood' Gaza with aid as more children die of starvation

AFP , Tuesday 5 Mar 2024

The United Nations on Tuesday called on the international community to "flood" Gaza with aid amid reports that children are dying of starvation in the war-torn Palestinian territory.

Gaza
Palestinian children receive cooked food rations as part of a volunteer youth initiative in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 5, 2024. AFP

 

"With children starting ... to die from starvation, that should be an alarm like no other," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency, told reporters in Geneva.

The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza has reported that 15 children have starved to death in a single hospital, and the UN has said famine is "almost inevitable" in the territory, under assault by Israel since October 7.

The UN's World Health Organization (WHO) reported "grim" findings and scenes of starving children after reaching two northern hospitals with aid last weekend for the first time since October.

Doctors at Kamal Adwan Hospital, the only paediatrics hospital in northern Gaza, told the team that "at least 10 children had died due to starvation", Ahmed Dahir, who headed the mission, told a Geneva press briefing from the war-ravaged Palestinian territory.

The health ministry has since reported that the number of child deaths at the hospital due to malnutrition and dehydration had risen to 15, with another six acutely malnourished infants at dire risk.

'Flood Gaza with aid' 
 

"If not now, when is the time to pull the stops, break the glass, and flood Gaza with the aid that it needs?" Laerke asked.

"That is what we need to see happen."

US cargo planes airdropped more than 36,000 meals in northern Gaza on Tuesday in a joint operation with Jordan, the US military said, amid the international scramble to ease the growing humanitarian crisis there.

But US officials have also warned that the international operation is not enough.

Since Oct.7, Israel's bombardment and ground offensive on Gaza have now killed more than 30,600 and wounded more than 70,000, 70 percent of them women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

A UN assessment in January indicated that more than 15 percent of children under the age of two in northern Gaza, one in six, were acutely malnourished, while three percent were suffering from life-threatening severe wasting.

In southern Gaza, five percent of children aged under two were acutely malnourished, according to that assessment, with the WHO warning the situation had likely gotten worse in recent weeks.

'Alarming' 
 

The strict criteria for declaring the situation in Gaza a full-blown famine have yet to be met, but the situation remains dire.

Starvation, or the absolute deficit of calories, can lead to things like organ failure, James Elder, spokesman for the UN children's agency UNICEF, told reporters.

Before reaching that point though, severe malnutrition can be a significant underlying cause of death, leaving children many times more likely to succumb to common childhood diseases.

The fact that malnutrition itself is now also being listed as the direct cause of children's deaths is therefore "alarming", Elder said.

While the famine label might draw more media attention, he stressed that "it doesn't make a lot of difference for the children on the ground".

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