UN agencies say over 1 million in Gaza could experience highest level of starvation by mid-July

FILE - Palestinians are storming trucks loaded with humanitarian aid brought in through a new U.S.-built pier, in the central Gaza Strip, Saturday, May 18, 2024. United Nations agencies are warning, Wednesday, June 5, that over 1 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip could experience the highest level of life-threatening starvation by the middle of next month if hostilities continue. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana, File)

By SAMY MAGDY Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) — United Nations agencies warned Wednesday that over 1 million Palestinians in Gaza could experience the highest level of starvation by the middle of next month if hostilities continue.

The World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization said in a joint report that hunger is worsening because of heavy restrictions on humanitarian access and the collapse of the local food system in the nearly eight-month Israel-Hamas war.

It says the situation remains dire in northern Gaza, which has been surrounded and largely isolated by Israeli troops for months. Israel recently opened land crossings in the north but they are only able to facilitate truck loads in the dozens each day for hundreds of thousands of people.

Israel’s incursion into Rafah has meanwhile severely disrupted aid operations in the south. Egypt has refused to open its Rafah crossing with Gaza since Israeli forces seized the Gaza side of it nearly a month ago, instead diverting aid to Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing nearby.

The Israeli military says it has allowed hundreds of trucks to enter through Kerem Shalom in recent weeks, but the U.N. says it is often unable to retrieve the aid because of the security situation. It says distribution within Gaza is also severely hampered by ongoing fighting, the breakdown of law and order, and other Israeli restrictions.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, the world authority on determining the extent of hunger crises, said in March that around 677,000 people in Gaza were experiencing Phase 5 hunger, the highest level and the equivalent of famine.

The two U.N. agencies said in their report Wednesday that that figure could climb to more than 1 million — or nearly half of Gaza’s total population of 2.3 million — by the middle of next month.

“In the absence of a cessation of hostilities and increased access, the impact on mortality and the lives of the Palestinians now, and in future generations, will increase markedly with every day, even if famine is avoided in the near term,” it said.

On Tuesday, a separate group of experts said it’s possible that famine is underway in northern Gaza but that the war, and restrictions on humanitarian access, have impeded the data collection to prove it.

“It is possible, if not likely,” the group known as the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or FEWS NET, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, said about famine in Gaza.

Last month, the head of the World Food Program, Cindy McCain, said northern Gaza had already entered “full-blown famine,” but experts at the U.N. agency later said she was expressing a personal opinion.

An area is considered to be in famine when three things occur: Twenty percent of households have an extreme lack of food, or are essentially starving; at least 30% of the children suffer from acute malnutrition or wasting, meaning they’re too thin for their height; and two adults or four children per every 10,000 people are dying daily of hunger and its complications.

The war began when Hamas and other militants stormed across the border into Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed over 36,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials. Most of Gaza’s population have fled their homes, often multiple times, and the offensive has caused widespread destruction.


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