Gaza Growing Hunger Aid Agencies Halt Deliveries Amid Famine Fears



A UNICEF representative cautioned that Gaza stood on the brink of a surge in avoidable child fatalities, exacerbating an already intolerable toll on children's lives in the region.

In the bustling crowds gathered around a food distribution center in Rafah, Gaza's southern hub, Magdy Hussein stood patiently in line, a picture of dignity amidst the clamor.

Yet, his patient wait ended in disappointment—by the time he reached the front, the food had already been depleted.

"God help us, every time we come here, we return empty-handed," Hussein lamented to the young volunteers serving soup, as captured by an NBC News crew last week. "Please, I've told you before, I have 25 mouths to feed at home."

"What kind of existence is this?" wondered Hussein, a man in his sixties, his question hanging unanswered in the air.

Hussein's plight epitomizes the grim reality facing numerous individuals in Gaza, amidst the ongoing Israeli military's ground invasion and relentless aerial bombardment. Aid organizations have repeatedly highlighted the dire shortage of food and water, placing many residents at risk of infection and death due to the challenges in delivering aid amid the escalating hostilities.

Matthew Hollingworth, the Regional Director of the World Food Programme, revealed in an interview from his Rafah office that on some days, no provisions make their way into the war-torn enclave. Rafah, where over a million people have sought refuge since the onset of Israel's ground invasion, stands as a poignant testament to the severity of the crisis.

"It's not merely a logistical challenge. It's beyond a logistical crisis," remarked Hollingworth, emphasizing that while the food supplies exist, the insurmountable task lies in getting them into the enclave. "Access is what we urgently require," he stressed.

"The depths of desperation, hopelessness, and despair are truly staggering," he continued. "People are gripped by fear, uncertain of where their next meal will come from or where they'll find shelter for the night."

Even if aid convoys manage to penetrate the enclave, Hollingworth pointed out, Israeli airstrikes hinder the delivery of aid to those most in need, compounded by incidents of "banditry, conflict, and lawlessness" among the desperate populace. Despite Israel's assertion that it doesn't restrict the import of humanitarian supplies, logistical challenges persist.

On Tuesday, the World Food Programme announced the suspension of deliveries to northern Gaza until conditions permit safe distribution. The decision stemmed from a combination of Israeli airstrikes, violence targeting truck drivers, and instances of vehicle looting, as outlined in a statement by the agency.

This development followed a report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Monday, which revealed that 1 in 6 children in Gaza suffer from acute malnutrition.

The report by the Global Nutrition Cluster, a UNICEF-led aid partnership, disclosed that over 90% of children under 5 in Gaza consume two or fewer food groups daily, indicative of severe food poverty. It further noted that a similar percentage grapples with infectious diseases.

The report also found that 80% of homes in the enclave lack clean and safe water and the average household had just 1 liter per person per day.

The acute malnutrition rate in northern Gaza, which has largely been cut off from aid for months after it was isolated by the Israeli military, was 15%, the report said. The report added that the rate was 5% in Rafah, where Palestinians packed into the crowded border city are now fearing an Israeli ground operation.

The war began after Hamas launched its Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 240 hostage. Israel says 134 hostages remain in captivity, including 130 taken on Oct. 7. Of those hostages 32 are known to be dead. More than 100 were released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in November. 

Gaza’s Health Ministry reported that the death toll in the enclave had surpassed 29,000 since the war's onset, with approximately two-thirds of the casualties being women and children.

Following Monday’s report, UNICEF official Ted Chaiban issued a warning, stating that Gaza was on the brink of experiencing a surge in avoidable child fatalities, further exacerbating the already dire situation of child mortality in the region.

For residents like Hussein, who have sought refuge in a dilapidated building devoid of outer walls, the scarcity of food has become an all-too-familiar and disheartening reality.

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