'One step away from famine' for more than 500,000 people in Gaza, UN official says

One in six under 2 in northern Gaza suffers from malnutrition, says official.

February 28, 2024, 10:33 PM

More than 570,000 people in Gaza are on the brink of experiencing famine levels of hunger amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, according to a United Nations official.

About one-quarter of the population -- 576,000 people -- are "one step away from famine" and facing a "grave situation," Ramesh Rajasingham, director of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said during a briefing Tuesday.

One in six children under the age of 2 in northern Gaza is suffering from acute malnutrition, he said, and that it was predicted the entire population of Gaza would be suffering from high levels of food insecurity by February 2024, which would be the highest share of a population worldwide ever recorded.

"Practically the entire population of Gaza [is] left to rely on woefully inadequate humanitarian food assistance to survive," Rajasingham said. "Unfortunately, as grim as the picture we see today, there is every possibility for further deterioration."

Palestinians react as they gather to collect aid food in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on February 26, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
AFP via Getty Images

Rajasingham said the military operations being carried out in Gaza, as well as the restrictions on what goods can enter the strip, have had a detrimental effect on food production and agriculture.

Since the terrorist group Hamas came to power in 2007, Israel -- with the support of Egypt -- has restricted the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza. Following Hamas' surprise attack on Israel in October 2023, Israel tightened those restrictions and increased inspections, with Israeli officials saying they were attempting to limit Hamas' access to weapons.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has previously said Israel doesn't provide enough authorization to deliver sufficient aid and, even when it does give authorization, the fighting makes it difficult to deliver that aid. Israel disputes the criticisms.

The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday said it helped with humanitarian aid airdrops this week in cooperation with the United States, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar, Egypt and France, transferring about 160 packages of food and medical equipment to some 17 locations in southern Gaza on Tuesday. According to the Israeli prime minister's office, 174 aid trucks entered Monday and a convoy of 31 trucks carrying food made its way to northern Gaza, adding that almost 50 trucks were transferred to northern Gaza over the past three days. Israeli officials have said Hamas steals aid once it enters Gaza and claim looting is also a problem.

Israel has denied accusations that it isn't letting enough aid into Gaza, with officials saying the U.N., its partners and other aid agencies have created logistical challenges, resulting in a bottleneck. The U.N. disputes these claims.

The IDF did not address images released of people standing on the Gaza shoreline and rushing to receive the aid as it fell during an airdrop Monday.

The northern Gaza Strip has been isolated by the Israeli military and largely cut off for months now, according to the U.N., which, along with multiple aid organizations, continues to warn about the threat of famine for those still living there.

"Food security experts warn of complete agricultural collapse in northern Gaza by May if conditions persist, with fields and productive assets damaged, destroyed or inaccessible," Rajasingham said Tuesday. "Many have had little choice but to abandon productive farmland due to evacuation orders and repeated displacement."

Additionally, the limited amounts of water, fuel and electricity have stopped food production, Rajasingham said, and Gaza's mills ceased operations in November. Fishing has also been halted due to sea access for boats being cut off, according to Rajasingham.

Palestinians gather to collect aid food in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on February 26, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
AFP via Getty Images

This is not the first time humanitarian organizations have warned about the population of Gaza potentially facing starvation.

In December 2023, nonprofit CARE International shared an Integrated Food Security Phase Classification 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."

Hamas officials have previously called on the World Health Organization to declare the Gaza Strip a "famine zone." Some people in northern Gaza have told ABC News they're using bird feed in place of flour to stave off starvation.

Since Hamas' unprecedented surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, more than 29,954 people have been killed in Gaza and more than 70,325 others have been injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. More than 1,200 people have been killed in Israel since Oct. 7, according to the Israeli Prime Minister's Office. Israeli officials say 576 IDF soldiers have been killed, including 237 since the ground operations in Gaza began.