UN agency warns of ‘looming famine’ in Gaza amid Israel war

Half a million people in Gaza face starvation and all 2.3 million experience acute food shortage, aid agencies report.

Famine is stalking Gaza as aid agencies struggle to deliver food to the north of the enclave, the head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has warned.

Humanitarian aid has not reached people in northern Gaza for more than a month, Philippe Lazzarini said on Sunday.

“The last time UNRWA was able to deliver food aid to northern Gaza was on January 23,” Lazzarini wrote on social media.

Aid agencies claim that Israel has been delaying deliveries. Tel Aviv denies that charge as it prepares to report to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the measures it has taken to avert suffering in the besieged enclave.

Lazzarini said calls to allow food distribution in Gaza amid the ongoing hostilities between Israel and Hamas have been denied or “have fallen on deaf ears”.

Warning against “looming famine”, the UN official said the situation is becoming a “man-made disaster”.

At least 500,000 people are facing famine while nearly the entire population of Gaza, 2.3 million people, is experiencing acute food shortage, figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) show.

On Sunday, a two-month-old Palestinian boy died of starvation, according to reports.

Obstacles to aid delivery

Israel – which controls Gaza’s border crossings – has opened just one entry point into the enclave since the start of the war and imposed “endless checking procedures” for trucks to pass through, UN agencies say.

Right-wing Israeli protesters have also blocked aid convoys at the Karem Abu Salem entry point – known as Kerem Shalom by Israelis – into southern Gaza, saying the Palestinian people should not be given aid.

Since February 9, the average number of trucks that entered Gaza daily was about 55, compared with 500 that used to enter before the start of the conflict, according to OCHA.

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The agency reports that the flow has sharply reduced further in recent days. Palestinian police officers have stopped providing escorts after at least eight of them were killed in Israeli attacks in southern Rafah, according to UNRWA and US officials.

This has prompted others to leave their posts, paving the way for a breakdown in civilian order. Last week, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced the suspension of aid deliveries to northern Gaza after crowds of hungry people stripped goods and beat a driver.

Convoys also faced gunfire, with verified video on social media showing Palestinians fleeing to take cover amid the sound of gunshots and clouds of fumes from smoke bombs. Palestinian children are also seen scooping up spilled flour from the ground.

The lack of Israeli assistance is further complicating deliveries, UN agencies say.

According to OCHA, the majority of aid missions between January 1 and February 15 for northern Gaza – 39 out of 77 – were denied by Israel and less than 20 percent were facilitated by Israeli authorities.

‘No limit’

However, Israel denies that it is obstructing aid deliveries.

“There is no limit to the amount of humanitarian aid that can be sent to the civilian population of Gaza and northern Gaza,” Israel’s coordination office for its activities in Palestine (COGAT) wrote in a post on X.

Israel is due on Monday to report to the ICJ what it has done to open the way to increased deliveries of humanitarian aid – one of the measures Israel was ordered to comply with by the UN’s top court last month to prevent genocide in Gaza.

But Human Rights Watch said on Monday that Israel was not adhering to the court’s order, citing a 30 percent drop in the average number of aid trucks entering Gaza daily over the weeks since.

“The Israeli government has simply ignored the court’s ruling, and in some ways even intensified its repression, including further blocking lifesaving aid,” said Omar Shakir, the agency’s Israel and Palestine director.

Meanwhile, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that a full-scale Israeli military operation in the southern city of Rafah would “put the final nail in the coffin” of aid programmes in Gaza.

Source: Al Jazeera