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Famine in northern Gaza is imminent as more than 1 million people face ‘catastrophic’ levels of hunger, new report warns

Famine is imminent in northern Gaza where 70% of the population are already suffering with catastrophic levels of hunger, a UN-backed report said Monday, as the EU’s top diplomat accused Israel of using “starvation as a weapon of war.”

All 2.2 million people in Gaza do not have enough food to eat, with half of the population on the brink of starvation and famine projected to arrive in the north “anytime between mid-March and May 2024,” according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

Acute hunger and malnutrition have already “far exceeded” the threshold for famine in northern Gaza and the IPC warns of a “major acceleration of death and malnutrition.”

This is the “the highest number of people facing catastrophic hunger ever recorded… anywhere, anytime,” by the IPC, said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The crisis has been described as “entirely man-made” and “preventable” due to Israel’s throttling of aid and widespread destruction of Gaza. The report said famine conditions will spread unless there is an “immediate cessation of hostilities” and full aid access granted to the strip.

“People in Gaza are starving to death right now. The speed at which this man-made hunger and malnutrition crisis has ripped through Gaza is terrifying,” said World Food Programme Executive Director Cindy McCain.

“There is a very small window left to prevent an outright famine and to do that we need immediate and full access to the north. If we wait until famine has been declared, it’s too late. Thousands more will be dead.”

The European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell accused Israel of using “starvation as a weapon of war,” saying the famine was “not a natural disaster” but caused by Israel “preventing humanitarian support entering into Gaza.”

Hundreds of trucks were waiting at the border and being prevented entry into Gaza by Israel, he said.

“The support is there waiting. Trucks are stopped, people are dying,” Borrell said. Aid delivery by sea and air was only necessary because the “natural” way of delivering aid by land was “artificially closed” by Israel, he added.

The World Food Programme estimates that at least 300 trucks are needed to enter Gaza every day and distribute food to meet only the basic hunger needs. The UN agency has only managed to take nine convoys into northern Gaza since the start of the year, it said in a statement.

A ceasefire remains the only way for agencies such as the WFP to “roll out a massive relief operation reaching all the communities in need,” it said.

Famine will spread, warning over Rafah offensive

Aid workers and government officials say a pattern has emerged of Israeli obstruction, where Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the agency that controls access to Gaza, has imposed arbitrary and contradictory criteria on relief entering the enclave.

About 210,000 people in the northern Gaza governates are already thought to be in Phase 5 of the IPC Food Insecurity Scale – known as the “Catastrophe Phase.”

One in three children below the age of 2 are “acutely malnourished,” the report said.

In the south, the governorates of Deir al-Balah, Khan Younis and Rafah are all in a Phase 4 or the “Emergency Phase” and in the worst-case scenario face the “risk of famine through July 2024,” according to the report.

“Between mid-March and 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 (IPC Phase 5),” the report warned.

Scarce supplies mean that “virtually all households are skipping meals every day” and adults are going without so their children can eat, the report said. In two-thirds of households in northern Gaza, people “went entire days and nights without eating at least 10 times in the last 30 days,” the report found. “In the southern governorates, this applies to one third of the households.”

Famine could be halted if aid organizations are allowed full access to Gaza to bring food, water and other supplies to the civilian population, the report said.

For this to happen, a ceasefire is needed immediately, it said.

But Netanyahu has vowed to push ahead with a planned ground offensive in Rafah, which has been under Israeli bombardment for weeks and where an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians are now sheltering.

International alarm is mounting over the pending operation, with fears that further escalation of violence will lead to more deaths and suffering, and exacerbate the hunger crisis.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden voiced “deep concerns” over Rafah in a phone call with Netanyahu, according to Biden’s top national security official.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden sought to explain to Netanyahu why the plan for Rafah could prove catastrophic for Palestinian civilians and hamper the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

The concerns fall within three areas: that civilians sheltering in Rafah have nowhere safe to go; that Rafah is an entry point for critical humanitarian assistance; and that neighboring Egypt has voiced serious concerns about a potential military operation there, he said.

Sullivan said Israel has not presented a plan to the United States or the rest of the world on protecting Palestinian civilians in Rafah.

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