Gaza set to starve, as World Food Programme withdraws

With its convoys faced with "complete chaos and violence", the aid agency has paused "life-saving" food deliveries

Refugee campsite in Gaza (photo courtesy @WFP/X)
Refugee campsite in Gaza (photo courtesy @WFP/X)

NH Political Bureau

The United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) has announced in a statement that it has had to pause "life-saving" food deliveries in northern Gaza "until safe conditions are in place for our staff and the people we are trying to reach".

The statement, posted on social media platform X on 20 February, spoke of a pause until conditions are in place that allow for "safe distributions".

It highlighted that "The decision to pause deliveries to the north of the Gaza Strip has not been taken lightly, as we know it means the situation there will deteriorate further and more people risk dying of hunger". However, its statement also spoke of attacks on its convoy, running the gauntlet of gunfire upon entering into Gaza City, trucks being looted and UNWFP members being beaten up—and its teams witnessing "unprecedented levels of desperation" over the last two days.

The WFP says the latest reports coming in are proof of a "precipitous slide into hunger and disease"—not very different from the UN and UNRWA's recent and repeated warnings of looming famine for Gaza.

A BBC report on the situation noted the UNRWA — the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees in particular — had noted at least 300,000 people in north Gaza depend on it for their very survival. (While hundreds of thousands of Palestinians moved south at the start of Israel's bombardment, accompanied by warnings to civilians to evacuate south, those who chose to stay — also in hundreds of thousands — have become cut off by Israeli troops' incursions and marooned amidst heavy shelling.)

For weeks, the UNRWA complained that its deliveries were being blocked by Israel, and the BBC report too made mention of the trickle of aid being "dependent on security clearances from the Israeli military".

As for the UNWFP, the BBC reported, it 'had hoped to begin a week-long delivery, sending 10 lorries each day to help "stem the tide of hunger and desperation"'.

But on Sunday, 18 February, as a convoy neared the Wadi Gaza checkpoint on its way north, it was "surrounded by crowds of hungry people" with "multiple attempts by people to climb aboard" and then on entering Gaza City faced gunfire, "high tension and explosive anger".

The UNWFP's statement announcing the pause said: 'In December, the Integrated Phase Classification report compiled by 15 agencies including WFP warned of the risk of famine in northern Gaza by May unless conditions there improved decisively. At the end of January, after delivering food to the north, we reported on the rapid deterioration of conditions.'

It continued: 'The latest reports confirm Gaza’s precipitous slide into hunger and disease. Food and safe water have become incredibly scarce and diseases are rife, compromising women and children’s nutrition and immunity and resulting in a surge of acute malnutrition. People are already dying from hunger-related causes.' 

A report issued on Monday, 19 February, by UNICEF and the UNWFP had already said that the situation was "particularly extreme in the Northern Gaza Strip", where UN agencies had conducted mutrition screenings at shelters and health centres. Amongst their findings was that 1 in 6 children under the age of 2 years was already acutely malnourished. 

In its statement, the UNWFP—which is the world's largest humanitarian aid organisation and yet battling with underfunding in several territories, including West Asia and Africa—also outlined the requirements to salvage or turn around the situation urgently:

  • a large-scale expansion of the flow of assistance to northern Gaza;

  • significantly higher volumes of food must come into the Gaza strip from multiple routes;

  • crossing points to the north of Gaza must open;

  • a functioning humanitarian notification system;

  • a stable communication network; and

  • security for humanitarian aid workers.

'Gaza is hanging by a thread and WFP must be enabled to reverse the path towards famine for thousands of desperately hungry people,' the UNWFP statement concluded.

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