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Famine looms in Gaza due to aid restrictions

Tania Krämer in Jerusalem | Hazem Balousha in Amman
March 4, 2024

Gaza is on the brink of famine as aid restrictions severely limit food and medical supplies. International aid agencies say half a million people in Gaza are facing starvation and hunger.

Kinder recken einem Helfer leere Töpfe und Schüsseln entgegen
Die UN warnt: Mehr als eine halbe Million Menschen im Gazastreifen seien von einer Hungersnot bedrohtImage: Abed Zagout/Anadolu/picture alliance

It's a daily struggle to find even the most basic food in Gaza City. 

"Sometimes we resort to looting abandoned or bombed-out houses just to survive," Abu Ahmad told DW by phone from Gaza City.

The father of six remained in Gaza City with two of his sons after the Israeli military ordered residents to move south in late October. The rest of his family is scattered across Gaza. 

"Two days ago, we started to see flour appearing in the market at prices that were somewhat affordable," the 48-year-old said.

On Saturday, he said, they received a small box of aid dropped from planes. 

The Jordanian Air Force and other countries, such as the United States, have resorted to airdropping food packages, medical supplies and ready-to-eat meals into the enclave, as the distribution of goods and humanitarian aid by trucks is insufficient.

As Gaza famine looms, air drops offer last-resort lifeline

"It is far from enough. The suffering in northern Gaza is deep," said Abu Ahmad.

His sister, who also stayed in Gaza City, has resorted to preparing simple meals.

"Our food mostly consists of khoubiza," said Abu Ahmad. The vegetable stew is made from steamed mallow leaves or whatever greens are now available.

As heavy fighting and bombardment continues across the Gaza Strip and negotiators try to broker a new ceasefire between Israel and the Islamist militant group Hamas to release the more than 130 Israeli hostages held in the territory, Abu Ahmad says he navigates cautiously between different areas of Gaza City in search of supplies. 

Desperate need for supplies

Disputes over meager supplies and resources are common.

"We are being neglected by all parties, who seem indifferent to our suffering. We long for a solution," said Abu Ahmad.

On October 7, 2023, Hamas militants killed 1,200 people in southern Israel and took more than 240 people hostage. Israel launched a retaliatory military campaign, vowing to defeat Hamas, which is listed as a terrorist organization by many countries. More than 30,400 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, and large parts of Gaza have been devastated.

There are conflicting reports about an incident last Thursday, February 29, involving a convoy of trucks carrying goods into northern Gaza. Eyewitnesses said Israeli forces fired on Palestinians as they waited for the aid to arrive and desperately tried to reach the supplies on the trucks. 

Gaza's Health Ministry said more than 100 people were killed, some crushed, run over by the trucks or shot. The Israeli military said on Sunday that an initial investigation found that "the majority of Palestinians were killed or injured as a result of the stampede." While the military fired warning shots, the statement said, soldiers had responded to "several looters approaching our forces and posing an immediate threat to them." 

Calls are growing for an independent investigation into the incident. French President Emmanuel Macron expressed "deep indignation" and "strongest condemnation" in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

Germany said that "the Israeli army must fully explain how the mass panic and shooting could have happened."

 Palestinian children wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen
People in Gaza are desperate for aid and food suppliesImage: Mohammed Salem/REUTERS

Aid agencies have been sounding the alarm for some time about the growing threat of child malnutrition, starvation and famine, particularly in northern Gaza.

"At the moment, for security reasons, there is very, very little aid going into central or northern Gaza. We still estimate that there are 300,000 people living there," says Jonathan Crickx, head of communications for UNICEF, who has visited Gaza recently to assess the situation of Palestinian children. 

Meanwhile, the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza has reported that 15 children have died as a result of malnutrition and dehydration. The numbers provided cannot be independently verified. 

'Acute food insecurity'

On March 2, the UN Security Council voiced concern over "alarming levels of acute food insecurity" and urged parties to the conflict "to allow, facilitate and enable the immediate, rapid, safe, sustained, and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale."

US Vice President Kamala Harris said on Sunday that "the Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses." 

Israel has denied restricting aid to civilians and has laid the blame on Hamas for taking advantage of some of the humanitarian aid.

"The idea that Israel isn't 'letting aid in' is simply a lie," wrote Eylon Levy, a government spokesperson on X. "There is excess capacity at Israel's crossings for more to enter."

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), an agency within the Israeli Ministry of Defense responsible for the crossings, has repeatedly accused UN agencies operating in Gaza of failing to process humanitarian aid quickly enough once it crosses the border, where the goods are reloaded onto local trucks with Palestinian drivers. 

Aid workers have called on Israel to open the Erez crossing in northern Gaza for more direct access to the area. 

Many roads are damaged and inaccessible, and fighting is still fierce in the north and south. In addition, the process of screening goods at the crossings can be cumbersome, as Israel bans certain items such as flashlights, crutches, and generators as "dual use" — fearing they could be used by militants for different purposes.

UN officials have also highlighted the lack of security for the convoys, as Palestinian policemen — civil servants under the Hamas government — are reportedly no longer escorting the trucks. There have been reports of armed gangs looting trucks, but also of desperate people just looking for any help they can get. 

"What we have seen is indeed some trucks that are looted by extremely hungry people. We have one colleague who has witnessed that some of the bottled water trucks, the people were not taking boxes and running away. They were taking a bottle of water and drinking it on the spot because they were so thirsty," said UNICEF's Jonathan Crickx, adding that "it is important to highlight that 2.2 million people cannot live on humanitarian aid alone."  

To make matters worse, the local food production chain has completely broken down with the destruction of crops and livestock facilities.

Situation dire in Gaza's south as well

The situation in the southern Gaza Strip is no less worrying. An estimated 1.4 million people are currently seeking shelter in Rafah, Gaza's southernmost town on the border with Egypt. 

Among them is Jamil Gherbawi, a father of six, who was displaced from the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza.

"For the past month, my wife, our six children and I have been living in a tent in the Mawasi area near Rafah," he told DW by phone.

The 50-year-old worked as a carpenter before the war began but now has no income. This has increased the family's dependence on aid. 

"Our days are spent looking for food and gas, and we are constantly on the move, fleeing bombings and the threat of displacement." 

Recently, he says, they received flour from UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, and canned food from other aid agencies. 

"Our daily meals consist of cooking over an open fire with the canned food we have," said Gherbawi, who says his situation mirrors that of many people around him.

"Our ultimate wish is for the war to end. But we are uncertain about how, why and when this will happen. We just want to return to our home and rebuilt our live." 

Edited by: Rob Mudge

Editor's note: Foreign journalists are not allowed independent access to Gaza.

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