WFP warns famine 'imminent' in northern Gaza

AFP , Wednesday 28 Feb 2024

Famine is "imminent" in northern Gaza, where no humanitarian group has been able to provide aid since January 23, the World Food Programme warned Tuesday, as Israel wages war on the Palestinian Strip.

A Palestinian boy cries as he stands amid debris in the Maghazi camp for Palestinian refugees, which was severely damaged by Israeli bombardment. AFP


With a dire humanitarian emergency unfolding in Gaza and the main UN aid agency there struggling to cope, other bodies have called for help in reaching the thousands of Palestinians in desperate need.

"If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza," WFP's deputy executive director Carl Skau told the UN Security Council, while his colleague from the UN humanitarian office OCHA, Ramesh Rajasingham, warned of "almost inevitable" widespread starvation.

As aid remains blocked from entering northern Gaza by Israeli forces, and only enters the rest of the territory in dribs and drabs, UN aid chief Martin Griffiths last week wrote to the Security Council calling on members to act to prohibit "the use of starvation of civilian population as a method of warfare."

"Here we are, at the end of February, with at least 576,000 people in Gaza -- one-quarter of the population -- one step away from famine, with one in six children under two years of age in northern Gaza suffering from acute malnutrition and wasting," OCHA's Rajasingham said.

Some 97 percent of groundwater in Gaza is "reportedly unfit for human consumption" and agricultural production is beginning to collapse, warned Maurizio Martina, deputy director general of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Aid is ready and waiting at the border, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also said Tuesday.

"WFP colleagues also tell us that they have food supplies at the border with Gaza, and with certain conditions, they would be able to scale up feeding up to 2.2 million people" across the Strip, Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

"Almost 1,000 trucks carrying 15,000 metric tons of food are in Egypt ready to move," he said.

Aid blocked by Israel 

But Israeli forces are "systematically" blocking access to Gaza, said Jens Laerke, spokesman for OCHA, in Geneva earlier Tuesday.

All planned aid convoys into the north have been denied by Israeli authorities in recent weeks.

The last allowed-in was on January 23, according to the World Health Organization.

The main UN aid agency in Gaza, UNRWA, meanwhile, is "at breaking point," its head said last week. As donors freeze funding, Israel exerts pressure to dismantle the body, and humanitarian needs soar.

"Israel must do more," US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said Tuesday, calling on the country to "facilitate the opening of additional crossings" for aid.

"We should all have been convinced by now that our action is needed, indeed was needed a long time ago," said Slovenian ambassador Samuel Zbogar.

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