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Children ‘starting to die from malnutrition’ in northern Gaza as food crisis worsens

“If this situation continues, I’m afraid the worst will happen and people will die of starvation," said Jomana Elkhalili, an Oxfam representative currently in northern Gaza.
“If this situation continues, I’m afraid the worst will happen and people will die of starvation," said Jomana Elkhalili, an Oxfam representative currently in northern Gaza. - Fatima Shbair/AP

Children are now dying from malnutrition and starvation in Gaza, with further deaths expected to be reported after food deliveries to the north of the enclave were suspended due to security concerns, medical and humanitarian workers have said.

The UN has been warning of looming famine in northern Gaza since December amid widespread food shortages. There have been reports of families, including children, going days without eating.

However, on Tuesday, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said that it was pausing crucial deliveries of food aid to the north until the conditions in the territory allowed for safe distributions, after several convoys were looted and fired upon in recent days.

Experts fear the suspension will have deadly consequences – yet one doctor has claimed that children are already beginning to die from severe malnutrition.

In comments provided via the British charity ActionAid, Dr Hussam Abu Safiya, the head of paediatrics at the Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza, said his team had “lost a significant number of children in recent days from widespread malnutrition”.

“We have recorded many cases that have been admitted to the intensive care unit,” he added.

“There is a spread of infection, especially at the level of the digestive system, most cases come in a very advanced and critical situation, due to the occurrence of intestinal infections, the complications of which include dehydration.”

The World Food Program said Tuesday it has paused deliveries of food to isolated northern Gaza because of increasing chaos across the territory, hiking fears of potential starvation.
The World Food Program said Tuesday it has paused deliveries of food to isolated northern Gaza because of increasing chaos across the territory, hiking fears of potential starvation. - Fatima Shbair/AP

Earlier this week, the Global Nutrition Cluster (GNC), a group of NGOs and UN agencies that aims to improve international food emergencies, released a report that found the levels of malnutrition to be more severe in northern Gaza.

Nutrition screenings conducted at shelters and health centres in the north found that one in six children under the age of two were acutely malnourished. Of these, almost three percent suffered from wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition, and required immediate treatment.

Before the recent months’ hostilities, wasting in the Gaza Strip was rare with just 0.8 per cent of children under five years of age acutely malnourished.

As the data were collected in January, the situation is likely to be even graver today, said Unicef, which described the population’s sudden nutritional decline as “unprecedented globally”.

“The Gaza Strip is poised to witness an explosion in preventable child deaths which would compound the already unbearable level of child deaths in Gaza,” said Ted Chaiban, the Unicef Deputy Executive Director for Humanitarian Action and Supply Operations.

“We’ve been warning for weeks that the Gaza Strip is on the brink of a nutrition crisis. If the conflict doesn’t end now, children’s nutrition will continue to plummet, leading to preventable deaths or health issues which will affect the children of Gaza for the rest of their lives.”

Charities and experts fear that the suspension of food deliveries to northern Gaza will exacerbate the suffering of civilians.

“Put simply, many more children are at risk of dying of hunger,” said Bushra Khalidi, a spokesperson for Oxfam.

Melanie Ward, CEO of British organisation Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), the only international charity working on the ground in northern Gaza, said the needs of the population “are more critical than ever right now”.

The WFP said the decision to suspend deliveries had not been taken lightly and crews had faced desperate crowds, gunfire and looting during recent missions.

Over the weekend, one convoy approaching the Wadi Gaza checkpoint on its way north was “surrounded by crowds of hungry people” with “multiple attempts by people to climb aboard”. The convoy also faced gunfire after entering Gaza City, the agency added.

Displaced Palestinians at Balah central market district in Deir al-Balah, Gaza.
Displaced Palestinians at Balah central market district in Deir al-Balah, Gaza. - Ahmad Salem/Bloomberg

In the first six weeks of the year, only 12 out of 77 attempted missions to northern Gaza were fully facilitated by the Israeli authorities, according to the UN.

As the flow of aid to the north dries up, humanitarian workers on the ground in Gaza have expressed concern at what comes next.

Mahmoud Shalabi, a Senior Programme Manager at MAP, who lives in Gaza, said: “There is no food available for children, nothing for elderly people, let alone people with dietary requirements.

“If this situation continues, I’m afraid the worst will happen and people will die of starvation.”

Jomana Elkhalili, an Oxfam representative currently in northern Gaza, told the Telegraph: “The situation is getting harder and harder and we still ask ourselves what we did as civilians to deserve the loss of our families and living in hunger? If we do not die from bombing, we will die from hunger.”

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