Israel weaponizes food supply as almost 600,000 people go hungry in Gaza

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The Gaza Strip is currently facing a severe food crisis, with over 570,000 residents struggling with hunger due to the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas. According to a recent report by the United Nations and other aid organizations, the situation has reached “catastrophic levels” of acute food insecurity. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale, which rates food security on a scale of 1 to 5, has placed the entire population of Gaza on Phase 3, with over 90% of the population experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity. This is a direct result of the violence and lack of ceasefire, which has made it difficult for aid to reach those in need.

The third stage is characterized as follows: “Families experience shortages in their food consumption, leading to severe malnutrition that is either high or above the average; or they can only barely meet their basic food requirements by using up essential resources or resorting to strategies to cope with crises.” In fact, it could potentially be even more severe.

According to a report, the entire population of the Gaza Strip will be categorized as being in IPC Phase 3 or higher [Crisis or worse] from Dec. 8 to Feb. 7, 2024. This represents the highest proportion of people with severe food insecurity ever recorded by a specific area or country. Of these individuals, approximately 50 percent are considered to be in Emergency [IPC Phase 4], while at least one in conditions are characterized by severe food shortages, starvation,

The study found that while the rates of severe malnutrition and deaths from non-violent causes had not yet reached famine levels, they were still alarmingly high and indicative of prolonged and extreme food shortages. The paper highlighted the especially vulnerable populations of children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and the elderly, who are at heightened risk of malnutrition and related health issues.

The study was published following allegations from Human Rights Watch (HRW) claiming that Israel had engaged in a war crime by employing starvation as a weapon during the conflict with Gaza’s civilian population. According to HRW, Israeli forces intentionally obstructed the provision of water, food, and fuel, deliberately hindered humanitarian aid, possibly destroyed agricultural areas, and deprived civilians of vital resources necessary for their survival.

According to publically available information, more than 20,000 Palestinians have lost their lives in the conflict, which Israel has been involved in and the United States government has supported. Among the casualties, there are over 8,000 children. When Israel’s military actions started following an initial attack by Hamas on southern Israel in October, Yoav Gallant, the Israeli Defense Minister, declared a complete blockade on the already restricted area. He also referred to the people in Gaza, where there are over one million young individuals, as “human animals.” It is worth noting that Israel’s bombings have severely depleted the food resources in Gaza, leading to a potential humanitarian crisis.

Hunger combined with illnesses lead to increased fatalities in Gaza, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has cautioned that diseases, particularly affecting children, pregnant and nursing women, and the elderly, are likely to become more rampant as starvation becomes increasingly widespread in the Strip. The organization has highlighted that Gaza is already witnessing a surge in infectious diseases.

In fact, over 100,000 cases of diarrhea have been reported since mid-October and half of these are among young children under the age of five years, case numbers that are 25 times what was reported before the conflict. In addition, more than 150,000 cases of upper respiratory infection and numerous cases of meningitis, skin rashes, scabies, lice and chickenpox have been reported. Hepatitis is also suspected as many people present with the tell-tale signs of jaundice.

According to the WHO, since people scramble for food, malnutrition increases the risk of children dying from illnesses like diarrhea, pneumonia and measles, especially in a setting where they lack access to life-saving health services. “While a healthy body can more easily fight off these diseases, a wasted and weakened body will struggle. Hunger weakens the body’s defenses and opens the door to disease,” a WHO spokesperson said in a Dec. 21 article. “Even if the child survives, wasting can have life-long impacts as it stunts growth and impairs cognitive development.”

In addition, it is important to note that breastfeeding mothers are also highly vulnerable to malnutrition. During the first six months of a baby’s life, a mother’s breast milk provides the most beneficial and secure nourishment. This safeguards the child against potential nutrient deficiencies and the spread of life-threatening illnesses, particularly in circumstances where access to safe drinking water is severely restricted.

Lack of sanitation and hygiene and a collapsing health system further add to the toxic mix as over 1.9 million people have been displaced from their homes and over 1.4 million are staying in overcrowded shelters. These conditions expose them to infectious diseases. “In Gaza today, on average, there is only one shower for every 4,500 people and one toilet for every 220. Clean water remains scarce and there are rising levels of outdoor defecation. These conditions make the spread of infectious diseases inevitable. Unfortunately, access to health services across Gaza has gone down as the war continues to degrade the health system,” WHO said and further reiterated its call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

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