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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Famine may already be in northern Gaza, leading aid groups say

By Niha Masih, Anthony Faiola and Miriam Berger Washington Post

Famine may already be happening in northern Gaza, and it risks spreading across the besieged enclave, plunging 2.2 million Palestinians into the broadest and most severe food crisis in the world, the globe’s leading body on food emergencies said Monday.

The new report from a cluster of international organizations and charities known as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification initiative, or IPC, outlined a devastating situation with up to half the population of Gaza - 1.1 million people - facing catastrophic levels of hunger and starvation between now and July. The most immediately affected areas are in the northern regions, which Israeli forces cut off from the enclave’s southern half and which only a trickle of aid has been able to enter.

Compared to the IPC’s previous analysis in December, acute food insecurity in the Gaza Strip has deepened and widened, with nearly double the number of people projected to suffer those conditions by July. The most dire projection is based on an escalation of the conflict, including a ground offensive in Rafah.

In the IPC’s five-tier classification of food crises, Gaza now has the largest percentage of a population to receive its most severe rating since the body began reporting in 2004, Beth Bechdol, deputy director general at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told The Washington Post.

By comparison, today in Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan - where millions are experiencing crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity - none of the population currently falls into the worst tier of catastrophic food shortages, Bechdol said.

People in areas designated at Tier 5 are considered to be “starving” and facing a significantly increased risk of acute malnutrition and death.

So, for Gaza to have 1.1 million people in IPC 5 is unprecedented,” she said. She added: “This is 100 percent a man-made crisis. There’s no hurricane, there’s no cyclone, there’s no 100-year flood. There’s no protracted year-on-year drought.”

The report is likely to add fuel to the increasingly sharp criticism of Israel from governments in the United States and Europe about the grim dimensions of the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza. On Monday, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, repeated his assertion that Israel was using starvation as a “weapon of war.” He noted that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had recently told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “we cannot stand by and watch Palestinians starve.”

“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 start of a conference on humanitarian aid for Gaza in Brussels. “This is unacceptable. Starvation is used as a weapon of war.”

“By whom?” he added. “Let’s dare to say by whom. By the one that prevents humanitarian support entering into Gaza.”

Moamen al-Harthani, a 29-year old resident of the northern Gaza town of Jabalya, described how people in the north were eating weeds and other plants to survive.

“There is no rice, no sugar, no beans, no lentils. … No fruit or vegetables,” Harthani said. “People eat the food of animals and livestock,” he said. Unable to find or afford flour, Harthani makes a bread-like substitute out of animal feed.

The IPC, an international initiative to classify food insecurity and malnutrition and assesses conditions, does not issue an official declaration of famine - a move left to senior local authorities or the highest United Nations official in an affected area. A famine designation would elevate the crisis to a major talking point at the U.N. Security Council and compel high-level crisis talks among humanitarian bodies and groups.

Hamas has already been using the word famine in its official statements for months. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to request for comment on whether the group planned to formally declare a famine in Gaza.

Also on Monday, a Famine Review Committee made up of leading independent international food security, nutrition and mortality experts issued a conclusion that the IPC’s findings were “plausible” and warned that famine in northern Gaza “is now projected and imminent.” It noted famine conditions for acute food insecurity and malnutrition had already been surpassed, though it was unclear if child mortality and non-trauma death rate thresholds had been reached.

A famine in Gaza would come after one engulfed 80,000 people in South Sudan in 2017 and 490,000 people in Somalia in 2011.

The war has destroyed and upended all parts of Gaza’s food system - from the fruits, vegetables, livestock and fish raised on farms to the bakeries and factories that produced breads and dairy products. The percent of damaged agriculture land increased from 25 percent to 60 percent between November 2023 and January 2024, the report said. It noted that more than 300 barns, 100 agricultural warehouses, 46 farm storage facilities, 119 animal shelters, 200 farms, as well over 600 wells used for irrigation have been destroyed, while most livestock has been abandoned, slaughtered or sold.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims typically have an early morning, pre-fast bite and then a large meal after fasting ends after sundown. But this year, Gazans told The Post, they are fasting regardless of Ramadan. Since the war began, Harthani said, he has lost around 60 pounds.

Harthani’s wife and 6-week-old child relocated south to Rafah, where they thought it would be safer. But in Rafah, his wife is similarly going hungry as she can’t afford sufficient food and formula due to sky-high wartime inflation, he said.

Both mother and newborn are weak from malnutrition. His wife recently developed liver disease, Harthani said.

The latest analysis was conducted remotely between Feb. 26 and March 1, by more than 40 experts from 18 agencies, the IPC said. But the new assessment - the IPC’s grimmest to date - suggests that northern Gaza is either already in the grip of famine or could reach that point anytime by May.

The findings in the latest report confirm warnings of impending famine in parts of Gaza, in the absence of a cease-fire, from U.N. and other aid agencies in recent months. At least 27 children have died of malnutrition in recent weeks, local health officials have said, underscoring the vast need.

Humanitarian officials blame the hunger crisis in the north on limited entry points for aid, a time-consuming Israeli inspection process and Israeli attacks on U.N. aid convoys and the police protecting them. Israel denies limiting the flow of aid to Gaza. It has accused the United Nations of failing to distribute food aid to those in need - or diverting it to Hamas.

Aid shipments, the report said, have been constrained by direct strikes on humanitarian convoys, detention of humanitarian staff, road closures, checkpoints, and related blockages or delays on main transportation corridors, the report said. Road damage from bombardments and traffic of heavy military vehicles as well as an estimated 12,000 metric tons of debris have added to complications.

Palestinian officials say more than 100 people were killed and 700 injured in Gaza City late last month after desperate civilians rushed an aid convoy, an incident that prompted the Biden administration to launch food drops into Gaza and express mounting frustration with Israeli controls on aid convoys into the enclave.

According to the report, virtually all households in Gaza are skipping meals every day and adults are reducing their meals so that children can eat. In northern Gaza, people in nearly two-thirds of all households were going entire days and nights without eating at least 10 times in the last 30 days, with 1 in 3 children under the age of 2 “acutely malnourished.” In the southern areas of the enclave, about one-third of households faced conditions of going days and nights without food.

The report blamed the famine-like conditions in Gaza on the “widespread, intense, and relentless conflict” that has forced approximately 1.9 million people, or 85 percent of Gaza’s population, to flee their homes, with over 31,000 fatalities and 73,000 injuries reported by Gaza health authorities. Added to that are massive losses in infrastructure, including food production and distribution, and extremely limited humanitarian access.

“The escalation of hostilities has halted supplies of water, food and fuel, causing the collapse of all food-related sectors, including vegetable production, livestock production, and fisheries and aquaculture,” said Maximo Torero Cullen, the FAO’s chief economist. “Around 60 to 70 percent of meat and dairy-producing livestock in Gaza have been either killed or prematurely slaughtered to meet the dire food needs stemming from the conflict.”

An earlier IPC assessment of Gaza in December concluded that its entire population was highly food insecure and at risk of famine.

While ongoing hostilities are a key factor for the rapid deterioration of the situation, the report said, the “extremely limited humanitarian access” to and within Gaza Strip has worsened matters.

In addition to the airdrops of small amounts of food, the first aid shipment by sea dispatched by nonprofit World Central Kitchen reached Gaza last week. But experts say these alone cannot contain the emergency.

Ahmed Najjar, 29, a resident of the northern town of Jabalya, is among the thousands of Gazans who for weeks have gathered late at night at key junctures to try to intercept food trucks entering the north.

Thursday night, more than 20 people were killed at the Kuwait Roundabout in Gaza City, according to Palestinian officials, who said Israeli forces fired at the crowds. The Israeli military blamed Palestinian gunmen. The Post could not independently confirm these accounts. Najjar said there was shelling by Israeli forces. He watched the injured and dead be pulled from the center of crowds around the trucks and left without getting any flour.

“The strong eat,” he said of the situation. “The weak die.”