'There is virtually no food left': Rights groups warn of starvation as food supply chains collapse in Gaza
The seven-day temporary ceasefire in Gaza has failed to alleviate the dire food shortages in the besieged Palestinian territory, leaving many adults going hungry in order to feed their children, an international charity warned on Monday.
The end of the ceasefire and the resumption of Israel's bombing of Gaza had jeopardised humanitarian efforts in the besieged enclave, Action Against Hunger warned, adding that canned food was scarce in local markets while concerns were rising as the vegetable harvest faced imminent depletion.
"While the conflict's pause allowed a slight increase in aid, living conditions remain dire, and the current aid flow is insufficient for both southern and northern Gaza," the group told The New Arab, urging an urgent and lasting ceasefire to address the critical needs of the 2.4 million people living in Gaza.
Bread, a staple food for people in Gaza, is now scarce or non-existent. Gas for cooking has become a luxury, forcing families to resort to burning wood and whatever is available.
"In Khan Younis, the local market is depleted of staples like pasta, canned food, and eggs, while rice and available vegetables are sold at exorbitantly high prices," Chiara Saccardi, Action Against Hunger's Middle East regional officer told TNA.
"Cooking gas is considered a luxury item and families resort to burning wood, food cartons and whatever else they can find to cook the few available products. The limited number of trucks entering through Rafah is nowhere near enough to feed a growing hungry population and queues to this bakery usually last around six to seven hours,” Saccardi said, adding that over 130 bakeries closed due to fuel shortages, making flour scarce.
"Our colleagues are seeing and experiencing it on the ground: there is virtually no food left in Gaza," Saccardi said. "Families are resorting to cooking by burning wood, food cartons and whatever else they can find," she said.
"Drinking water is in very short supply, and other water sources are increasingly unsafe due to cross-contamination from sewage, rainwater and well water," she added.
"Gazans need more food, more nutritious food, and clear water for cooking. They also need gas and fuel to cook food. To avoid the risk of food insecurity, malnutrition and starvation, these items must reach the most vulnerable immediately."
Collapse of the food chain
The food supply infrastructure in Gaza is no longer functional; only 25 percent of shops contracted by WFP remained open by mid-November and others had run out essential food items.
Local markets had shut down completely. The small quantities of food that can be found were being sold at alarmingly inflated prices and were of little use without the ability to cook, forcing some people to survive on one meal a day.
For the lucky, that includes more than solely canned food, though some people had resorted to consuming raw onions and uncooked eggplants, WFP said.
"The collapse of food supply chains is a catastrophic turning point in an already dire situation, where people have been stripped of basic necessities”, said Samer Abdeljaber, Representative and Country Director in Palestine.
"Without access to fuel, our ability to provide bread or transport food to those in need has been severely compromised, essentially bringing life in Gaza to a standstill. People are going hungry."
Malnutrition of the most vulnerable
Action Against Hunger's expert on Access to Health Services, Bruno Abarca, said that in addition to food insecurity, unhygienic conditions, stress and overcrowding have an impact on diet, leading to malnutrition among the most vulnerable.
"Sustained food deprivation can lead to hunger, pain, anxiety, weight loss, electrolyte imbalances, apathy, fatigue, depletion of body fat and protein reserves, physical and psychological deterioration, tissue degradation, organ damage and death within days and even sudden death among children," Abarca said.
Northern Gaza is an area of particular concern due to the absence of a safe NGO presence, limited aid distribution capacity, and the collapse of services.
"There continues to be great concern about hunger, dehydration and water-borne diseases due to consumption of water from unsafe sources. The water desalination plant and the Israeli pipeline are not functioning," Action Against Hunger said.
Despite challenges, the group said it had collaborated with local suppliers, distributing water, food, hygiene products, and other essentials during the ceasefire.
A permanent ceasefire could allow the organisation to assess and repair damaged water networks, support families in extreme conditions, increase food aid to internally displaced persons, and assist affected farmers in restoring their livelihoods.