Famine in Gaza ‘imminent,’ UN-backed report says

Famine is expected between now and May in the north of the Gaza Strip, a UN-backed report said on Monday, after more than five months of war that have shattered the Palestinian territory, killed thousands and cut off supplies.

Across the whole of the besieged enclave, the number of people facing “catastrophic hunger” has risen to 1.1 million, about half the population, the report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) said.

“Famine is now projected and imminent in the North Gaza and Gaza Governorates and is expected to become manifest during the projection period from mid-March 2024 to May 2024,” it said.

The assessment by the U.N.-backed initiative — a scale used by U.N. agencies, regional bodies and aid groups — comes amid global pressure on Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into the enclave of 2.3 million people.

Some 300,000 are cut off by fighting in the north.

The number of people deemed at risk of catastrophic hunger in Gaza is nearly double the figure reported in December, when the last IPC on Gaza was issued and there was already record hunger.

“From mid-March to mid-July, in the most likely scenario and under the assumption of an escalation of the conflict including a ground offensive in Rafah, half of the population of the Gaza Strip (1.11 million people) is expected to face catastrophic conditions,” the IPC said.

Israel has said it plans to assault Rafah, the southern Gaza city bordering Egypt, to root out Hamas fighters, but it is also involved in mediation talks about a possible truce.

Calls for ceasefire, proactive solutions

The IPC analysis said famine could still be avoided if Israel and Hamas stop fighting and aid organizations gain increased access.

“The actions needed to prevent famine require an immediate political decision for a ceasefire together with a significant and immediate increase in humanitarian and commercial access to the entire population of Gaza,” it said.

“All efforts must be made to ensure the provision of food, water, medicines and protection of civilians, as well as to restore and provide health, water and sanitation services, and energy.”

WATCH l UN’s Martin Griffiths to CBC News on the famine risk for kids:

UN aid chief says Gaza is ‘racing towards famine’

WARNING: Video contains graphic images | In a conversation with The National’s Adrienne Arsenault, United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Martin Griffiths describes the deteriorating situation on the ground in Gaza as deeply shocking and warns the territory could soon face famine.

The World Health Organization said in response to the report that “famine can be halted — both in the immediate term and it requires urgent and proactive measures from parties to the conflict and the international community.”

Meanwhile, the head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency said on Monday the hunger in the Gaza Strip is “man-made.”

“We are engaged in a race against the clock to try to reverse the impact of the spreading hunger and the looming famine in the Gaza Strip,” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said during a press conference in Cairo with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry.

The crisis can be resolved and reversed through proper political will and Gaza can be “flooded” with food through the crossings, he added.

Israel angered by EU chief accusation

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was more pointed in his remarks Monday, saying that Israel is provoking famine in Gaza and using starvation as a weapon of war.

“In Gaza we are no longer on the brink of famine, we are in a state of famine, affecting thousands of people,” Borrell said at the opening of a conference on humanitarian aid for Gaza in Brussels.

“This is unacceptable. Starvation is used as a weapon of war. Israel is provoking famine.”

Two boats in a body of water are shown from an overhead angle with a massive barge that says 'World Central Kitchen' attached.
A World Central Kitchen barge loaded with food arrives off the Gaza coast on Friday. There is risk of famine in the region after five months of Israel’s military campaign. (Israel Defence Forces/Reuters)

Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz in a response urged Borrell to “stop attacking Israel and recognize our right to self-defence against Hamas’s crimes.”

Katz in a post on X said Israel allowed “extensive humanitarian aid into Gaza by land, air, and sea for anyone willing to help.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has announced that the U.S. military will build a temporary port on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast to receive humanitarian aid by sea, but with hospitals in northern Gaza already reporting children dying of malnutrition, the temporary port plan does not look like an immediate solution for people who are already starving.

White House officials speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters have said the plan will take an unspecified number of weeks to execute.

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