Famine Imminent in Northern Gaza, New Report Warns

Photo: WFP/Ali Jadallah/2024
Published March 18, 2024

ROME – Famine is imminent in the northern part of the Gaza Strip and the entire population of Gaza is facing crisis levels of food insecurity or worse, according to the new Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report released today.

In Gaza’s two northern governorates, where around 300,000 people remain trapped, famine is expected to arrive between now and May. The famine threshold for acute food insecurity has already been far exceeded, while acute malnutrition among children below 5 years is proceeding at record pace towards the second famine threshold. Non-trauma mortality – the final famine indicator – is accelerating, but data remains limited, as is typical in war zones.

Overall, the new report shows that 1.1 million people in Gaza – half of the population – have completely exhausted their food supplies and coping capacities and are struggling with catastrophic hunger (IPC Phase 5) and starvation. This is the highest number of people ever recorded as facing catastrophic hunger by the IPC system, and double the number in IPC Phase 5 just three months ago.

“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 United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) 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 report noted a steeply increasing trend in malnutrition across the Gaza Strip, where acute malnutrition stood at less than 1% before the escalation in fighting five months ago. In the north Gaza governorate, latest data indicates that one in three children below the age of 2 is now acutely malnourished or “wasted.” This means they are dangerously thin for their height, which puts them at risk of death.

The southern governorates of Deir al Balah, Khan Younis and Rafah, are classified in IPC Phase 4 (Emergency) and also risk slipping into famine conditions by July 2024. Across Gaza, 88% of the population faces emergency or worse food insecurity. According to Executive Director McCain, “Desperate women and children are just one illness, one forced movement or one more catastrophic event away from losing everything.”

The report said that famine – even in northern Gaza – can be halted if full access is facilitated for aid organizations to provide food, water, nutrition products, medicines, health and sanitation services, at scale, to the entire civilian population. For this to be possible, a humanitarian ceasefire is necessary.

The U.N. World Food Programme estimates that simply addressing the basic food needs will require at least 300 trucks to enter Gaza every day and distribute food, especially in the north. The U.N. World Food Programme has only managed to take nine convoys to the north since the start of the year.

The latest of these, on Sunday night, involved 18 truckloads of food supplies delivered by the U.N. World Food Programme to Gaza City. The convoy, the second to use a coordinated route into Gaza City and the north, delivered some 600,000 pounds of wheat flour, food parcels and ready-to-eat rations. This route needs to be made available for daily convoys and safe access to the north.

Dispatching aid to the north of Gaza needs day-to-day approvals from Israeli authorities. During the long waits at the Wadi Gaza checkpoint, truck convoys face looting and are frequently turned back. If they do get through, there is a high risk of more looting along the difficult route north.

“The U.N. World Food Programme and our partners have food supplies ready, at the border and in the region, to feed all 2.2 million people across Gaza – but moving food into and within Gaza is like trying to navigate a maze, with obstacles at every turn,” said U.N. World Food Programme Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Carl Skau. “The complicated border controls, combined with the high tensions and desperation inside Gaza, make it nearly impossible for food supplies to reach people in need, particularly in the north. But the delivery of 18 trucks of food on Sunday shows that it can be done. This cannot be a one-off, but this needs to be sustained, regular and at scale to support those in need.”

To provide the necessary response, the U.N. World Food Programme and its humanitarian partners need Israel to provide more entry points into Gaza, direct access via crossings in the north, and the use of Ashdod port in Israel to bring in food aid.

Sustained road access – both into Gaza and then within Gaza – is critical because other options, such as airdrops, cannot deliver the volume of aid urgently needed to avert imminent famine. Above all, a ceasefire is urgently needed for the U.N. World Food Programme and the humanitarian community to roll out a massive relief operation reaching all the communities in need.

Note to Editors

About the IPC: IPC is a multi-stakeholder platform that analyzes data from the U.N. World Food Programme, other UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to determine the severity and magnitude of hunger crises, according to internationally-recognized scientific standards.

Reports: Read the IPC Special Brief and the shorter Snapshot

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the world’s leading humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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