UN agency says it can’t deliver aid to Gaza because of chaos as famine fears are rising

The World Food Program said it has to pause food deliveries in northern Gaza because of fighting and chaos in the region.

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World News

February 20, 2024 - 3:04 PM

Palestinians line up for food in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, during a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Photo by (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — The World Food Program said Tuesday it had to pause deliveries of food to isolated northern Gaza because of increasing chaos across the territory, hiking fears of potential starvation. A study by the U.N. children’s agency warned that one in six children in the north are acutely malnourished.

Entry of aid trucks into the besieged territory has sharply declined by more than half the past two weeks, according to U.N. figures. Overwhelmed U.N. and relief workers said aid intake and distribution has been crippled by Israeli failure to ensure convoys’ safety amid its bombardment and ground offensive and by a breakdown in security, with hungry Palestinians frequently overwhelming trucks to take food.

The weakening of the aid operation threatens to deepen misery across the territory, where Israel’s air and ground offensive, launched in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, has killed over 29,000 Palestinians, obliterated entire neighborhoods and displaced more than 80% of the population of 2.3 million.

Heavy fighting and airstrikes have flared in the past two days in areas of northern Gaza that the Israeli military said had been largely cleared of Hamas weeks ago. The military on Tuesday ordered the evacuation of two neighborhoods on Gaza City’s southern edge, an indication that militants are still putting up stiff resistance.

The north, including Gaza City, has been isolated since Israeli troops first moved into it in late October. Large swaths of the city have been reduced to rubble, but several hundred thousand Palestinians remain in the area, largely cut off from aid.

They describe famine-like conditions, in which families limit themselves to one meal a day and often resort to mixing animal and bird fodder with grains to bake bread.

“The situation is beyond your imagination,” said Soad Abu Hussein, a widow and mother of five children sheltering in a school in Jabaliya refugee camp.

Ayman Abu Awad, who lives in Zaytoun, said he eats one meal a day to save whatever he can for his four children.

“People have eaten whatever they find, including animal feed and rotten bread,” he said.

The World Food Program said it was forced to pause aid to the north because of “complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order.”

It said it had first suspended deliveries to the north three weeks ago after a strike hit an aid truck. It tried resuming this week, but convoys on Sunday and Monday faced gunfire and crowds of hungry people stripping goods and beating one driver.

WFP said it was working to resume deliveries as soon as possible. It called for the opening of crossing points for aid directly into northern Gaza from Israel and a better notification system to coordinate with the Israeli military.

It warned of a “precipitous slide into hunger and disease,” saying, “People are already dying from hunger-related causes.”

UNICEF official Ted Chaiban said in a statement that Gaza “is poised to witness an explosion in preventable child deaths, which would compound the already unbearable level of child deaths in Gaza.”

The report released Monday by the Global Nutrition Cluster, an aid partnership led by UNICEF, found that in 95% of Gaza’s households, adults were restricting their own food to ensure small children can eat, while 65% of families eat only one meal a day.

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