Photo: WFP/Arete/Abood al Sayd/2023

WFP Deputy Chief Warns Security Council of Imminent Famine in Northern Gaza Unless Conditions Change

Published February 28, 2024

NEW YORK – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau addressed the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, February 27 on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. He spoke at a High-Level Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.

Here are his remarks, as delivered:

“As you have already heard, the Famine Review Committee has warned of a real prospect of famine by May, with over 500,000 people at risk if the threat is allowed to materialize.

Even before October, two-thirds of the people in Gaza were supported with food assistance. Today, food aid is required by almost the entire population of 2.2 million people. Gaza is seeing the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world. One child in every six under the age of two is acutely malnourished.

The U.N. World Food Programme is ready to swiftly expand and scale up our operations if there is a ceasefire agreement.  But in the meantime, the risk of famine is being fueled by the inability to bring critical food supplies into Gaza in sufficient quantities, and the almost impossible operating conditions faced by our staff on the ground.

Conditions in northern Gaza are particularly dire. On Sunday, February 18, we resumed deliveries to the north for the first time in three weeks. Our intention was to send 10 trucks per day, for seven days, to address immediate needs, and provide some reassurance to people living there that sufficient food would be brought in.

However, on both February 18 and 19, our convoys faced significant obstacles. There were delays at checkpoints. They faced gunfire and other violence. Food was looted along the way, and at their destination they were overwhelmed by desperately hungry people.

As a result, we have been forced to pause deliveries of food to the north until conditions are in place that allow for safe distributions – both for our staff, and for the people receiving our assistance. This is not a decision the U.N. World Food Programme has taken lightly, as we know it means conditions will worsen, and more people will be at risk of dying from hunger-related causes.

But the breakdown in civil order, driven by sheer desperation, is preventing the safe distribution of aid.

We are now urgently exploring all viable delivery options to allow the resumption of operations in northern Gaza as soon as possible. This is an absolute humanitarian imperative. The staff on our convoys witnessed catastrophic conditions in the north: food and clean water are scarce, malnutrition is soaring and disease is rife.

Madame President, immediate action is required to enable a huge increase in the volume of food and other humanitarian supplies going into northern Gaza. This is the only way to calm tension and restore some semblance of civil order.

For this to happen, we need a functioning operating environment for humanitarian staff. We need the port of Ashdod and the Karni crossing to be open, so we can import food and other essential supplies swiftly and at scale.  And we need a working humanitarian notification system, and a stable communications network to keep humanitarian staff safe.

If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza. We must all double down and live up to our responsibilities to ensure it does not happen on our watch.

Meanwhile, in the south of Gaza, the U.N. World Food Programme and partners are on the ground, delivering food as it comes to shelters, to make-shift camps and to shops. But we are unable to provide regular or sufficient food to people who badly need it. Most food is distributed in Rafah – the hub of the U.N. World Food Programme’s current operations in Gaza – and very little assistance reaches people elsewhere.

The U.N. World Food Programme has made efforts to support the re-establishment of local food systems wherever possible. This has included expanding distribution points to include local shops, supporting bakeries by providing them with wheat flour and other necessary resources to operate, and supplying community-run kitchens that provide hot meals every day.

But the fact remains that without safe and greatly expanded access, aid workers cannot mount a relief operation at the scale required to reverse the severe humanitarian crisis now gripping Gaza. It is essential we avert a famine, and this requires much more than just food supplies. Basic services must also be restored, including health services, electricity networks, and water and sanitation pipelines. In this, UNWRA is indispensable.

Council members, in 2018, this body adopted Security Council Resolution 2417, which reaffirms international humanitarian law and the need to break the vicious cycle between armed conflict and food insecurity.

Today we call on the Council to uphold this Resolution.  Thank you.”

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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