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Children in Gaza are dying of starvation at a sickening rate

Children in Gaza are dying of starvation at a sickening rate
6 min read
12 March, 2024
Reports of hunger and malnutrition are rife across Gaza. By depriving Gaza of food and water, Israel's assault is literally starving children to death.

"There's an everyday struggle to find food. Her mum told me how they'd either eat very small portions, share food, or skip meals altogether," Jonathan Crickx, Head of Communications at UNICEF State of Palestine told The New Arab, referring to 13-year-old Nada who shelters with her mother and two sisters in a makeshift tent in Rafah.

Hunger and starvation now looms over Gaza. 10-year-old Yazan al-Kafaneh, whose skeletal, emaciated body has been circulated widely over the past several days, died on Monday 4 March from extreme malnourishment in Rafah.

"The child had turned into a skeleton...Hunger ravaged his body. This child was suffering from several diseases," Muhammad al-Kafarneh, a relative of Yazan, explained to Al Jazeera. "I have a baby and I can't find milk or any food to feed her," another Palestinian man from the north of Gaza said in a video posted on X, explaining that his infant is on the verge of death.

As Israel's war on Gaza rumbles on, more stories are emerging from Gaza about children starving. On February 28, a two-year-old child, Khaled Hijazi, died at Kamal Idwan Hospital after his stomach couldn't handle animal feed.

"There's such a scarcity of everything," Aseel Baidoun, Acting Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) said to The New Arab. "It's an unimaginable man-made crisis to make people starve. I feel so devastated when I see my colleague Mahmoud with his kids filmed in Gaza City these days. They've lost so much weight," she uttered. 

On social media, images from northern Gaza show kids scavenging through torn bags and on the ground to find grains for making soup. Videos show a severely dehydrated and malnourished boy crying. 

Aid agencies have sounded the alarm over child starvation in Gaza, which is witnessing the fastest deterioration in a population's nutrition status on record. 

In the north of Gaza, one in six children are acutely malnourished, with areas receiving very limited or no humanitarian assistance particularly impacted. The lack of clean drinking water in Gaza has also exposed children to an increased risk of infection and malnutrition. 90 percent of children under five are suffering from an infectious disease. 

In the north of Gaza, 15 percent of children are 'severely malnourished' [Getty Images]

Israel's 'man-made' famine in Gaza

The overall health of Gaza's 2.3 million population has dramatically deteriorated as a result of the collapse of its healthcare system, limited access to clean water, poor sanitation and decreased dietary diversity amid Israel's unprecedented onslaught which has, to date, killed over 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza. 

Since October 7, Israel has cut off fuel, water and food into the coastal enclave, and imposed restrictions preventing the entry of aid. It can take up to one month for supplies to enter the territory, according to Gaza's Ministry of Health. As a result, the combination of Israel's brutal offensive with the strangling blockade has pushed 25 percent of Gaza to the brink of famine. 

At least 16 children have died from malnutrition and dehydration in the Gaza Strip, based on data retrieved from the Palestinian Ministry of Health. 

The latest report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) ranked Gaza's entire population as facing acute food insecurity. It is the highest share of people facing such severe food insecurity the IPC has ever classified. 

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"Children have started going out on the streets with their plates, empty pots and spoons, shouting 'We want to eat'," Mahmoud Shalabi, Senior Programme Manager at Medical Aid for Palestinians shared with The New Arab about the current situation in northern Gaza. 

"I've seen children digging in trash bags to find something to eat, others in very long queues waiting for a small amount of aid," Jonathan Crickx noted from his most recent field assessment, indicating that the vast majority of families in Gaza were limiting meals and servings, with over 60 percent of households living on just one meal a day. 

How Israel strangles Gaza 

In southern Gaza, five percent of children are severely malnourished, according to UNICEF's latest nutrition screening. In the north, where aid is less available, the figure jumps to 15 percent — three times as much. Three percent of the total figure is suffering from severe wasting, said to be the deadliest form of malnutrition. 

"Children are being starved while trucks of aid are denied access and continued fighting prevents the delivery of the little aid coming into Gaza," Jason Lee, Save the Children's Country Director in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said in a media statement

“These tragic and horrific deaths are man-made, predictable and entirely preventable," Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa stated in a presser on Sunday, “Last week, we warned that an explosion in child deaths was imminent if the burgeoning nutrition crisis wasn’t resolved”.

International relief organisations have warned of catastrophic levels of hunger in Gaza, with over half a million people estimated to be already experiencing the most severe phase of acute food insecurity. This occurs amid unabated Israeli attacks, dire shortages of food, clean water and medicines, and largely insufficient aid deliveries caused by huge impediments and severely limited access to humanitarian supplies.

The United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) said there was a 50 percent reduction in humanitarian aid entering Gaza during February, compared to January. Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have repeatedly denied access to UN aid convoys into the north in recent weeks.

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On February 29, Israeli troops fired on crowds of Palestinians trying to collect food aid in Gaza City, killing more than 100 civilians in what UN experts have termed the "flour massacre". Aid deliveries have often been chaotic with Gazans — having already experienced hunger for five consecutive months— desperately waiting for lifesaving supplies. 

"There's no civil order. It's like a jungle, the strong will try to grab whatever he can and bring it to his children," Aseel Baidoun told The New Arab.

Under international law, Israel as the occupying power has a clear obligation to provide for the basic needs of Gaza's population. Instead, it has been depriving civilians of drinkable water and food, with children now literally starving to death. 

Alessandra Bajec is a freelance journalist currently based in Tunis.

Follow her on Twitter: @AlessandraBajec