UN: Famine Is Certain in Gaza without Cease-fire

    28 February 2024

    A United Nations official warned Tuesday that the Gaza Strip is at high risk of famine, an extreme lack of food, if the war there does not stop soon.

    Ramesh Rajasingham is director of the coordination division in the U.N. humanitarian office.

    "If nothing is done, we fear widespread famine in Gaza is almost inevitable, and the conflict, which since October has claimed the lives of almost 30,000 people and injured more than 70,000 ... will have many more victims," he said.

    Displaced Palestinian children wait to receive free food at a tent camp as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 27, 2024. (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    Displaced Palestinian children wait to receive free food at a tent camp as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 27, 2024. (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa )

    Rajasingham spoke at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council requested by members Algeria, Guyana, Slovenia and Switzerland. There are rising concerns that hunger is being used as a weapon in the war.

    Rajasingham said at least 576,000 people in Gaza — 25 percent of the population — are very close to famine. Almost the entire population is depending on food aid to survive, he said.

    "Gaza is seeing the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world," said Carl Skau, an official with the U.N.'s World Food Program (WFP).

    Agricultural production collapsing

    Maurizio Martina is assistant director-general of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization. He explained how the entire food supply chain has been impacted by the war. He said Israel has forced farmers to leave their land or flee shelling that has destroyed crops. Farm animals are dying from hunger or killed in bombings. Fishing is banned and ground water is polluted.

    "In the most likely scenario, agricultural production will have collapsed in the north by May 2024," Martina said. "We are already seeing this collapse."

    Flow of aid 'unpredictable,' 'insufficient'

    Martin Griffiths is the U.N. humanitarian chief. He said humanitarians continue to face serious difficulties in providing aid.

    "These include border crossing closures, serious movement restrictions, access denials, onerous vetting procedures, security risks, incidents by desperate civilians, a breakdown of law and order, and restrictions on communications and protective equipment," Griffiths wrote.

    Israel denies it is restricting or limiting the delivery of aid to Gaza.

    "Israel is doing all it can to care for civilians, going above and beyond what is expected, let alone required," Israel's deputy U.N. envoy Jonathan Miller told the council.

    Miller said Israel has helped the delivery of 254,000 tons of relief supplies into Gaza since the start of the war, including 165,000 tons of food. He blamed Hamas for diverting aid and the U.N. for failing to properly manage and distribute it.

    Famine 'imminent' in northern Gaza

    The situation is most serous in northern Gaza, which remains cut off by the Israeli military.

    About 300,000 people are believed to have ignored Israel's earlier evacuation order and remained through months of heavy fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas.

    "If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza," WFP's Skau said.

    The U.N. agency that assists Palestinians, UNRWA, delivers most of the relief supplies. It says the last time it was able to get food aid to northern Gaza was on January 23. On February 20, the World Food Program suspended its deliveries to the north because of a lack of security in the area. The World Health Organization last reached Gaza City's largest hospital, Al Shifa, on January 22 with medical supplies.

    One week ago, the 15-nation Security Council failed to pass an agreement calling for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire because of a veto from the United States. Several council members repeated their call for a cease-fire at Tuesday's meeting.

    Even Israel's closest ally, the United States, displayed its growing displeasure with the slow delivery of aid. It urged Israel to keep border crossings open and to open new ones.

    "Simply put, Israel must do more," Ambassador Robert Wood said.

    I'm Dan Novak.

    Margaret Besheer wrote this story for Voice of America. Dan Novak adapted it for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    humanitarian — adj. concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare

    inevitable — adj. sure to happen

    onerous — adj. difficult and unpleasant to do or deal with

    vet — v. to check carefully to make sure it is acceptable

    divert — v. to change the direction or use of

    evacuate — v. to remove from a dangerous place

    imminent — adj. happening very soon