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Famine ‘imminent’ in northern Gaza, warns WFP

Famine is “imminent” in northern Gaza, where no humanitarian group has been able to provide aid since 23 January, the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned, as Israel wages war on Palestinian militant group Hamas.

With a dire humanitarian emergency unfolding in the Gaza Strip and the main UN aid agency there struggling to cope, other bodies have called for help in reaching the thousands of Palestinians in desperate need.

“If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza,” WFP’s deputy executive director Carl Skau told the UN Security Council, while his colleague from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Ramesh Rajasingham, warned of “almost inevitable” widespread starvation.

As aid remains blocked from entering northern Gaza by Israeli forces, and only enters the rest of the territory in dribs and drabs, UN aid chief Martin Griffiths last week wrote to the Security Council calling on members to act to prohibit “the use of starvation of civilian population as a method of warfare.”

“Here we are, at the end of February, with at least 576,000 people in Gaza – one-quarter of the population – one step away from famine, with one in six children under two years of age in northern Gaza suffering from acute malnutrition and wasting,” OCHA’s Mr Rajasingham said.

The WFP said no humanitarian group has been able to distribute aid since last month

Some 97% of groundwater in Gaza is “reportedly unfit for human consumption” and agricultural production is beginning to collapse, warned Maurizio Martina, deputy director general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Aid is ready and waiting at the border, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also said.

“WFP colleagues also tell us that they have food supplies at the border with Gaza, and with certain conditions they would be able to scale up feeding up to 2.2 million people” across the Strip, Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

“Almost 1,000 trucks carrying 15,000 metric tons of food are in Egypt ready to move,” he said.

Aid blocked by Israel

But Israeli forces are “systematically” blocking access to Gaza, said Jens Laerke, spokesman for OCHA, in Geneva earlier.

All planned aid convoys into the north have been denied by Israeli authorities in recent weeks.

The last allowed in was on 23 January, according to the World Health Organization.

But Israeli deputy ambassador to the UN Jonathan Miller countered that “it is not Israel who is holding up these trucks,” instead placing the blame on the UN, which he said must distribute aid “more effectively.”

“There is no limit to the amount of humanitarian aid that can be sent to the civilian population of Gaza,” he said, adding that since the beginning of 2024 Israel had only denied 16% of requests to deliver aid, and those were due to risks the shipments could end up in Hamas’ hands.

All planned aid convoys into the north have been denied by Israeli authorities in recent weeks

The main UN aid agency in Gaza, UNRWA, meanwhile, is “at breaking point”, its head said last week.

As donors freeze funding, Israel exerts pressure to dismantle the body and humanitarian needs soar.

“Israel must do more,” US deputy ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said yesterday, calling on the country to “facilitate the opening of additional crossings” for aid.

“We should all have been convinced by now that our action is needed, indeed was needed a long time ago,” said Slovenian ambassador Samuel Zbogar.

The Hamas attack on 7 October that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,878 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.

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