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Dirty water and animal feed leave Gaza starving on its feet

'They scream in the streets begging for food': Dirty water and animal feed leave Gaza starving on its feet
6 min read
22 February, 2024
Desperation mounts in the besieged Gaza Strip as families resort to animal feed to feed starving children, as fears of widespread famine grow.

Hunger is forcing families in Gaza to grind animal feed to use as flour and drink polluted water, with 2.3 million people faced with famine.  

Those affected most are the 335,000 malnourished children under the age of five. Equally, new mothers are unable to produce enough milk to feed their infants. At a time most crucial for their development, these children risk long-term health consequences – mental and physical – and impaired growth.

With aid officials claiming that there are “pockets of famine” in certain areas, parents are foregoing food to provide for their children. It is not just the availability of food that is a problem, but the escalating cost of it

ActionAid says 15 out of 97 bakeries are working, all in the south. In Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, a kilo of salt, which cost 22p before the war now costs £4.35 and a box of yeast, which cost £1.09 now costs £5.43.

However, in the north of Gaza where there are no bakeries, food scarcity is even worse. Long queues result in many going home empty-handed. High prices, like £14.82 or £16.94 for a tin of milk make life even tougher. 

Riham Jafari, Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at ActionAid Palestine told The New Arab: “Some people are so desperate they’re grinding down animal feed to use as flour. Many have no choice but to drink dirty, contaminated water and are getting sick as a result.”

Israeli forces are blocking the delivery of aid - including water, food, and fuel - while wilfully impeding humanitarian assistance [Getty Images]

Ahmad Zaki and his wife Dina have five children, aged 6 to 12. In a place where a sack of flour, which is virtually unavailable, costs around £326, Ahmad and Dina have to grind down hay and animal feed to make flour for bread.

Even so, finding animal feed is difficult. Ahmad said, “I don’t have many options. My children are starving. Nothing makes them feel satisfied. I can’t find anything anywhere.”

Dina said, “We look at our neighbours in other places, and some of them can’t find anything, and they scream in the streets begging for food. In all of Gaza City, the only vegetables that can be found are onions and tomatoes, and the prices are beyond the means of any family.”

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Abeer, a mother of seven said, “We only have lentils to eat. People are getting sick from eating the same food every day. You cannot have lentils every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These children need proper food, don’t they? Shouldn’t they be able to have decent food? Resources are scarce and very expensive. I want to make them salad and feed them healthy food. But it’s barely available. [My] children are beginning to suffer from malnutrition, for they are eating the same things daily.” 

Famine looms over Gaza

Israel plans to flood tunnels beneath the Gaza Strip in an attempt to “neutralise terrorist infrastructure”. If this happens, it will further impact the existing scarcity of freshwater supplies. Currently, only one of three water pipes from Israel is working, providing only 1.5 to 2 litres of substandard water a day for all needs.

This situation would be unimaginable for anyone, but for those families in Gaza with young children, it is a stark reality. Less than four percent of freshwater is drinkable and the surrounding sea is polluted by sewage

"It is difficult to get fresh drinking water. Sometimes my kids fall asleep without water,” said Suhaila, whose family has been displaced multiple times. She, her mother-in-law, and her children are currently staying in a tent.

“We really need the basic necessities; it is difficult to get fresh drinking water. My son goes on several trips to fill only one gallon [with water],” she said, “We fill one gallon with fresh drinking water and another with water for cleaning. But it is a long way to get water, and it is also tiring."


Despite 100 trucks a day, aid is not enough and it is estimated that 500 trucks a day are required. Israeli restrictions block critical items like water testing kits. This means important things like water testing kits and chlorine for cleaning water aren't available, says the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

Talking about the dire conditions of displaced people in overcrowded shelters and makeshift sites, Olga Cherevko, a member of the UNOCHA team in southern Gaza tweeted:  “Some people have not eaten in days. The children have no winter clothes. There’s no medical care. […] The extent of needs is enormous.”

What is even more shocking is that an estimated 17,000 children in Gaza are alone and dealing with loss and grief in addition to appalling living conditions.

UNICEF State of Palestine Chief of Communication, Jonathan Crickx said, “I returned from Gaza this week. I met many children, each one with her or his own devastating story to tell. Of 12 children I met or interviewed, more than half of them had lost a family member in this war. Three had lost a parent, of which, two had lost both their mother and their father. Behind each of these statistics is a child who is coming to terms with this horrible new reality.”

Since the Hamas-led attack on 7 October 2023 which resulted in 1,200 Israelis and foreigners being killed, the Israeli air and ground invasion of Gaza has killed in excess of 29,000 Palestinians, a number that continues to rise daily.

Riham Jafari from ActionAid emphasised the severity: "Every person in Gaza is hungry. We need more aid now to prevent a widespread famine."

Although ActionAid  is working alongside the Wefaq Association for Women and Childcare (WEFAQ), distributing food kits to families in Rafah and offering hot meals to those in need, it is still not enough.

With the ongoing Israeli bombardment and siege, the number of aid trucks permitted remains insufficient. ActionAid is therefore calling for urgent steps to ramp up deliveries and avert a widespread famine and has already called for an immediate and lasting ceasefire several times.

UN experts tweeted that 80% of those facing famine globally are Gazans, amid ongoing Israeli bombardment and siege. They accuse Israel of destroying farmlands and blocking access to the sea. It has been suggested that Israel is using starvation as a weapon of war, depriving civilians in Gaza of basic essentials that are indispensable to their survival.

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The UN Special Rapporteurs who do not receive a salary issued a joint statement last month denouncing Israel's actions in Gaza, describing the deliberate deprivation of food as unprecedented and a violation of human rights. They accused Israel of using food as a weapon against the Palestinian population, effectively destroying Gaza's food system and exacerbating hunger among civilians.

“The long shadow of starvation is stalking the people of Gaza – along with disease, malnutrition and other health threats,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

“Nothing can justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

Rabina Khan is a former Councillor and Special Adviser. She is a London-based writer, and an Aziz Foundation Scholar and also works for a national charity empowering girls and women.

Follow her on Twitter: @RabinaKhan