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Famine and the rising death toll in Gaza

June 4, 2024 at 2:02 pm

A Palestinian child suffering from malnutrition receives treatment with limited facilities at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, Gaza on June 01, 2024 [Hassan Jedi/Anadolu Agency]

Two Palestinian children died last week of starvation, dehydration and lack of medicine amid desperate conditions in the southern areas of the besieged Gaza Strip.

The Ministry of Health announced the death of Abdulqader Sirhi, 13, and seven-month-old Fayiz Abu Ataya, from malnutrition and lack of food and medicine at Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah. The ministry said that the number of famine-related deaths has risen to 37, with only those who reached the hospitals able to be counted. It added that many died in their homes and their deaths have not been registered, while others are fighting for their lives.

Over 3,500 children, under the age of five, are facing an imminent risk of death due to shortages of food, nutritional supplements and vaccinations.

Fayiz Abu Ataya’s father said: “My child was born at the beginning of the current sweeping pogrom, in our shelter school, and died in it. He needed a special kind of formula and food missing in Gaza.” The infant’s short life is a chronicle of the deprivation overwhelming aid-starved Gaza.

In a statement, 70 international rights organisations – including the Geneva-based Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, Geneva International Centre for Justice, and Brussels Court – called on all relevant authorities and international institutions to officially declare a famine in the Gaza Strip. The statement stressed that food insecurity is increasing across the tiny enclave because of Israel’s use of starvation as a weapon of war against the Palestinian people.

The joint statement also warned:

With the crossings closed and humanitarian aid being prevented from entering by Israel, the threat of famine and acute malnutrition has resurfaced and swiftly spread.

“This affects the 2.3 million residents of the Gaza Strip, half of whom are children, and particularly the people in the northern Gaza Valley, where supplies have run out.”

Before Israel unleashed its current carnage, the poverty and unemployment rates in Gaza had reached heights of 64 per cent and 45 per cent respectively, according to data from the World Bank and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). Some 63 per cent of the people of the Strip were food insecure, while 80 per cent of Palestinians in the besieged enclave depended on international aid. Now, living under the genocidal war, things are aggravated. All families in the narrow enclave depend on foreign humanitarian aid, so their basic survival needs are affected by its cessation.

Um Firas Ghanem, a Palestinian mother who was displaced from Gaza City and forced to move to Deir Al-Balah, has three children, the eldest just six years old. “I fear for my kids, and I know, if we survive, the malnutrition and dehydration will impact their brain and growth,” she said. “There is no milk or eggs or meat or fruits, and if they are found, it’s very few, and extremely expensive that I can’t afford to buy it.” Um Firas’s family, like most of the displaced families, relies entirely on charities who provide them a meal every day. She is worried that if the Rafah Crossing remains closed, they will reach the point where no flour or canned food is available and children and patients will die in large numbers.

WATCH: Famine and malnutrition haunt Gaza

The Rafah Crossing has been closed since Israeli occupation forces took control of the vital area on 7 May, raising the Israeli flag to highlight its control. Now, thousands of trucks of food, water and medical supplies are stranded on the Egyptian side of the crossing awaiting Israel’s approval to enter the besieged Strip to help alleviate the crises facing Palestinian civilians.

This is not the first time Israel has weaponised water as a weapon of war. For almost two decades the occupation state has besieged Gaza, limiting the entry of food and medical supplies in an effort to pressure the Palestinian resistance to make concessions. Prior to the current bombing campaign only 500 trucks of goods were allowed into Gaza a day, insufficient for the enclave’s 2.3 million population. Since the end of October 2023, when Israel allowed aid to re-enter the Strip, after closing all the crossings for three weeks, only between 100-150 trucks have been allowed to enter Gaza each day, when deliveries have been approved

The humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza is only a fraction of what is needed to answer the enormous needs of an exhausted people. Since Israel stormed Rafah a month ago, no humanitarian aid has been allowed through the crossing and no injured Palestinians have been able to leave the Strip to access lifesaving medical care abroad. Now, even the few remaining devastated hospitals risk being out of service as fuel supplies dwindle.

In her partially damaged house in Gaza City, Amani Junaid, a mother of five, describes their life as a living hell. “Our lives have completely stopped: no school, no hospital, no markets, no homes, no entertainment areas for kids, scarce clean water and food,” she tells MEMO. “Before March, we ate animal fodder. Now we have only flour, but we can’t find anything to dip it in. We skip meals.”

“My children keep asking me for chocolates, snacks, lollipops and I am in agony not being able to meet their needs,” she adds. Amani has already lost her father during Israel’s war, he died as a result of his inability to obtain the medication needed to stabilise his health.

In addition to Israel’s control of the supply of humanitarian aid, it has also targeted food production factories, warehouses, markets, shops, stores, and bakeries, ensuring it controls access to all life saving supplies.

In spite of this, a famine has not been declared in Gaza. The delay in changing the conditions for the Palestinians of the Strip is another blow to a people who have struggled for decades under siege and occupation and a nod for Israel to continue its annihilation of the indigenous population of Palestine.

READ: Gaza’s children living next to waste dumps: UNICEF

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.