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Catastrophic famine looms in Gaza

Aid agencies call for truce as hunger warnings mount

By JAN YUMUL in Hong Kong | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-03-20 09:18

Palestinians gather to receive aid outside a warehouse as people face crisis levels of hunger, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza City on Monday. Mahmoud Issa / Reuters

Multiple international humanitarian agencies have warned of looming catastrophic famine and food insecurity in Gaza amid slow aid delivery, underscoring the need for unimpeded critical supplies through land routes as Israel's retaliatory bombardment continued.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said outside the Security Council in New York on Monday that Palestinians in Gaza were enduring "horrifying levels of hunger and suffering".

He called on the Israeli authorities to ensure complete and unfettered access to humanitarian goods throughout Gaza and for the international community to fully support the UN's humanitarian efforts.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said on Monday that before the crisis, there "was enough food in Gaza to feed the population".

"Malnutrition was a rare occurrence. Now, people are dying, and many more are sick. Over a million people are expected to face catastrophic hunger unless significantly more food is allowed to enter Gaza," he said.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell on Monday said that Israel's military campaign had turned Gaza from the world's "greatest open-air prison" into its biggest "open-air graveyard".

He hoped that the EU ministers would discuss and review the bloc's joint position on the situation.

Other organizations, including Oxfam, said in a statement that "we cannot wait for a declaration of famine to stop these appalling atrocities and massively scale up humanitarian operations".

The statement also called for an immediate permanent cease-fire and a political solution, including "ending the occupation and release of all hostages and illegally held prisoners".

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, lamented on his X account on Monday that Israeli authorities had denied his entry into Gaza.

"This human-made starvation under our watch is a stain on our collective humanity. … Famine can be averted with political will," said Lazzarini.

On March 12, the Spanish vessel Open Arms left Cyprus with a United Arab Emirates-funded shipment of some 200 metric tons of flour, protein and rice. The cargo, organized by the United States charity World Central Kitchen, was offloaded in Gaza, the Arab News reported.

The US, since the start of March, and with some help from Jordanian forces, had also conducted the airdrops of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Prioritize cease-fire

But on March 14, 25 nongovernmental organizations called on governments to prioritize cease-fire and ground-based humanitarian aid, saying that the States "cannot hide behind airdrops and efforts to open a maritime corridor to create the illusion that they are doing enough to support the needs in Gaza".

They said the primary responsibility was to prevent atrocities from unfolding.

"Even if trucks are allowed to enter, the number per day is minimal, insufficient to meet the needs of 2.3 million Gaza residents. From South to North Gaza, aid truck convoys were also blocked by Israel so that aid workers could not distribute the food. Israel also carried out attacks on aid workers and humanitarian facilities, including the UN agency," Dina Yulianti Sulaeman, director of the Indonesia Center for Middle East Studies, told China Daily.

"The only solution is to open the land borders so that trucks can bring as much help as possible," she added.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, report released on Monday, its acute food insecurity analysis conducted in December warned of a risk that famine may occur by the end of May if hostilities continued. The analysis also noted that half of the population of the Gaza Strip, or 1.11 million people, is expected to face catastrophic conditions, the most severe level on the IPC Acute Food Insecurity scale.

Guterres described the IPC report as an "appalling indictment of conditions on the ground for civilians".

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