More than 500,000 people in Gaza face 'catastrophic hunger': UNRWA

A Hamas official called on the WHO to declare the Gaza Strip a "famine zone."

January 23, 2024, 2:30 PM

More than half a million people in Gaza are currently facing "catastrophic hunger" amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, according to multiple United Nations organizations.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said 570,000 Gazans are classified as having food insecurity equivalent to famine levels of starvation, as defined by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

"Intense fighting, access denials & restrictions [plus] communications blackouts are hampering @UNRWA's ability to safely & effectively deliver aid," the organization wrote Tuesday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. "As risk of famine grows, @UN calls for a critical increase in humanitarian access."

UNRWA said it and its partners have been distributing flour, protein-based food, high-energy biscuits, dairy items and other food items to Gazans, reaching 320,000 families so far.

Meanwhile, the U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP) said it has been difficult to get food into northern Gaza, which has been cut off from external aid.

Palestinians stand in a line as they wait to receive food amid shortages of food supplies, Jan. 17, 2024, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
Mohammed Salem/Reuters

"I think the risk of having pockets of famine in Gaza is very much still there," WFP spokesperson Abeer Etefa told Reuters on Tuesday. "This is why we're seeing people becoming more desperate and being impatient to wait for food distributions – because it's very sporadic."

In a video recording distributed by the Associated Press, senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told reporters in Beirut that people in northern Gaza facing severe food shortages have been forced to grind and eat animal feed "in order to stay alive."

Hamdan called on the World Health Organization to declare the Gaza Strip a "famine zone."

Last month, nonprofit CARE International shared an IPC report that said 100% of the Gazan population is facing a hunger crisis, and though Gazans are facing varying levels of hunger, "virtually all households are skipping meals every day."

The news comes amid intense fighting in Gaza as aid workers there also struggle to care for medical patients. Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), said there has been heavy bombing near Nasser Hospital, located in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, which is one of the few hospitals in Gaza still partially operating.

"MSF staff in Nasser hospital report they can feel the ground shaking and that there is a sense of panic among staff, patients and displaced people sheltering inside the building," the organization wrote on X on Monday. "All the hospital wards at Nasser are full and there is no way to evacuate medical staff and patients safely due to exit routes from the facility being blocked."

The military operation carried out by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Khan Younis is expected "to last several days," the IDF said in a release Monday.

Displaced people line up to receive food near the tents in which they live, Jan. 20, 2024, in Rafah, Gaza.
Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

Since Hamas' surprise terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, more than 25,400 people in Gaza have been killed and more than 63,000 have been injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. More than 1,200 have been killed in Israel and 6,900 injured, according to the Israeli Prime Minister's Office.

The IDF said 556 soldiers have been killed since the war began and 221 have been killed since the ground invasion began. Monday was the single-deadliest day for the IDF since Oct. 7, with 21 killed in a building blast in the Gaza Strip.

Additionally, there are about 136 hostages – more than 120 of them Israelis – still believed to be in captivity in Gaza and at least 33 are believed to be dead, according to the IDF and the Israeli Prime Minister's Office.

ABC News' Jordana Miller, Joseph Simonetti and Dana Savir contributed to this report.

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