Famine in war-torn Gaza

Siham Shamalakh, Wednesday 26 Jun 2024

Palestinians in Gaza are on the brink of starvation as a result of Israel’s ongoing war on the strip.

Famine in war-torn Gaza


The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has warned in a recent report that famine is imminent in northern Gaza, where over one million Palestinians are experiencing catastrophic hunger.

According to the report, any further escalation of hostilities between the Israeli army and Palestinian fighters in the devastated enclave could push the population to famine conditions by mid-July.

Health officials in Gaza have long warned of the risk of a deadly famine in Gaza, which has been under continuous Israeli bombardment for about nine months.

According to the Health Ministry in Gaza, 33 children have died of famine or malnutrition since the beginning of the war last October, most of them also suffering from trauma and psychological disorders such as fear and anxiety.

Some 3,500 Palestinian children with chronic diseases are at risk of death due to malnutrition and the significant collapse of the healthcare system.

Mona Ismail, a 38-year-old housewife and the mother of five living in Gaza, said that she was likely to die from hunger or fear, her voice filled with grief and fatigue.

“I am suffering from involuntary urination at my age, can you imagine,” she said. “It is because of the panic I feel when powerful Israeli airstrikes hit the area where I live. It feels like Domesday has come.”

After eight months of the Israeli war on Gaza, she cannot control the feelings of fear inside her.

“I feel physically and psychologically dead,” she said.

“Don’t ask me about food. There is no food in Gaza. I am trapped in Gaza City, where all we have is a couple of cans of food every once in a while or nothing at all. I feel helpless at not being able to feed my children, or even find them a piece of bread. I’m losing weight, and my children are getting thin. We are literally dying of hunger.”

Acute malnutrition has doubled in northern Gaza, where finding food and water is a daily struggle for scores of people facing starvation. Um Ahmed, 41, left Gaza with her husband for medical treatment in Jordan last September, leaving eight sons and daughters in Gaza. Her children refused to move and remained in Hayy Al-Naser west of Gaza City.

“My sons and daughters don’t have enough food, and they don’t have the cash they need to buy it either, even if they are lucky enough to find it on sale,” Um Ahmed said.

“My eldest son Ahmed is now the sole provider for his brothers and sisters. He goes out every morning in the hope of finding even morsels of bread to give to his siblings, but he returns empty-handed. They used to get food from a neighbour, who offered them soup from time to time. Now there is no food in the north of Gaza, and even our neighbour can hardly find any.”

“The world must take action to end this starvation.”

Hossam Abu Safeya, director of the Kamal Odwan Hospital in the north of Gaza, told Al-Ahram Weekly that no basic food items have been delivered to Palestinians in northern Gaza for several weeks.

“There is not enough flour to make bread for the children or for the elderly or pregnant women. These people need food containing adequate amount of nutrition to survive,” Abu Safeya said.

“About 214 children including six in a critical condition have been transferred to the Kamal Odwan Hospital over the past two weeks with signs of severe malnutrition,” he added, saying that the children also lack milk and medicines.

According to Kefah Madi, a 49-year-old woman living in Gaza City, every day has become like torture. “My journey in search of food starts every day at 5:00 am, when I go with my sons to look for food leftovers in the trash near the tent we have been forced to live in,” she said.

“I made the tent near a wall in a graveyard from pieces of old cloth to shelter my children after the Israeli army dropped evacuation flyers on us a couple of weeks ago. We are hungry, we are being starved, and we are begging for bread,” Madi added.

“There is no meat or fruit or vegetables, and if we find any, we can’t afford to buy them.”

“Food is unavailable in the north of Gaza, and prices are sky-high in the south. Three potatoes are now selling for $3, when four kg of potatoes cost less than $3 before the war.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Friday that the current extreme heat in Gaza, as well as poor access to clean water, food, and sanitation could worsen health problems among Palestinians displaced from their homes by Israeli bombardments since last October.

Many of them have relocated multiple times to save the lives of their children and loved ones.

According to the WHO, contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to infectious diseases such as cholera, hepatitis, and dysentery, as well as diarrhea and scabies.

Eissa Youssef, a man in his late thirties living in Gaza, said that he had lost his two-year-old son Mahmoud due to hepatitis.

“I was living with my family and some relatives in a tent,” he said. “The conditions were dire, and we had no access to clean drinking water. There was no personal hygiene either, as we could only shower at long intervals, and we shared a public toilet.”

“I noticed that Mahmoud was getting pale and that his face was turning yellow. He was showing fatigue despite his earlier being playful and active. When I took him to the hospital, he was diagnosed with hepatitis. He stayed there for about a week, but unfortunately the hospital lacked adequate medicines and equipment, and the poor child was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.”

“All I could do was to take him for burial. I know that God will be more merciful on him than on anyone else in the world. There has been a deliberate dismantling of the health system in the Gaza Strip, and nobody knows whose turn will be next,” the heartbroken father said.

Local officials in Gaza warned on Saturday of famine breaking out in the north of the Strip. A statement released by the Palestinian Government Media Office in Gaza urged the international community to push for the opening of the crossings into Gaza in order to allow for the entry of lifesaving aid.

Reports of Palestinians in northern Gaza resorting to boiling weeds and eating animal feed to stave off hunger have also gone viral.

Palestinian activists have launched hashtags entitled “The North is Hungry,” “Famine in Northern Gaza,” and “Northern Gaza is Starving” to shed light on the famine in the northern Gaza Strip.

Painful images of Palestinian children in Gaza becoming skeletal have circulated on social media, and pictures and videos have documented evidence about increasing levels of starvation in the Strip, especially in the north.

“There is a frightening international media blackout on what is happening in northern Gaza. The previous media campaign against starvation in the north in February had some success in putting pressure on Israel to allow food and medical aid in for scores of Palestinians suffering from hunger,” journalist Mohamed Saeed said.

“But now the circle has re-tightened on a population of one million living in Gaza City and the north of the Strip,” Saeed said.

The WFP said in its report that the southern border crossings, crucial for aid entry, are barely functional due to the Israeli operations in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Officials said that the ongoing operations make it extremely difficult for aid workers in Gaza to deliver aid supplies to the Strip.

According to Palestinian health officials, over 37,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 85,000 wounded by Israeli bombardments of the Gaza Strip since last October.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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