One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says

Displaced Palestinians wait to receive free food at a tent camp, amid food shortages, in Rafah

Displaced Palestinians wait to receive free food at a tent camp, amid food shortages, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 27, 2024. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

UNITED NATIONS — At least 576,000 people in the Gaza Strip – one quarter of the population – are one step away from famine, a senior U.N. aid official told the Security Council on Tuesday, warning that widespread famine could be “almost inevitable” without action.

“Very little will be possible while hostilities continue and while there is a risk that they will spread into the overcrowded areas in the south of Gaza. We therefore reiterate our call for a ceasefire,” said Ramesh Rajasingham, coordination director of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

READ: Israel to join truce talks in Paris amid heavy Gaza bombardment

One in six children under age 2 in northern Gaza suffers from acute malnutrition and wasting and practically all the 2.3 million people in the Palestinian enclave rely on “woefully inadequate” food aid to survive, he told the Security Council.

Rajasingham said the U.N. and aid groups face “overwhelming obstacles just to get a bare minimum of supplies into Gaza.” These include crossing closures, restrictions on movement and communication, onerous vetting procedures, unrest, damaged roads and unexploded ordnance, he said.

Israel is committed to improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza, said Israel’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Jonathan Miller, adding that the limitations on the quantity and pace of aid are dependent on the capacity of the U.N. and other agencies.

“Israel has been clear in its policies. There is absolutely no limit, and I repeat, there is no limit to the amount of humanitarian aid that can be sent to the civilian population of Gaza,” Miller told the Security Council.

‘Israel must do more’

The U.S. urged its ally Israel to keep border crossings open for humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza and to facilitate opening of more crossings, Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Robert Wood told the Security Council.

“Simply put, Israel must do more,” he said. “We continue to call on Israel to improve deconfliction procedures to ensure aid can move safely and securely.”

The World Food Programme “is ready to swiftly expand and scale up our operations if there is a ceasefire agreement,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau told the Security Council.

READ: Israel raids main Gaza hospital as Rafah concerns grow

“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,” Skau said.

The war in Gaza began when Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s air and ground campaign in Gaza has since killed around 30,000 Palestinians, health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say.

“Starvation as a method of warfare is illegal and Guyana condemns those who are deliberately using this as a tool against the population in Gaza,” Guyana’s U.N. Ambassador Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett told the 15-member council.

Israel’s campaign in Gaza “is a collective punishment for the Palestinian civilian people,” Algeria’s U.N. Ambassador Amar Bendjama told the Security Council. “Our silence grants a license to kill and to starve the Palestinian population.”