Quarter of Gaza one step from famine as aid trucks looted, says UN

Palestinians line up for free as threat of starvation looms
Palestinians line up for free as threat of starvation looms Copyright Fatima Shbair/APFatima Shbair/AP
By Euronews with AP
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UN officials painted a dire picture for Gaza's 2.3 million people, with civil order in the enclave breaking down.

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Aid trucks are being shot at and looted with at least a quarter of Gaza's population one step away from starvation, UN officials said on Tuesday.

The situation is especially acute in the north, where humanitarian supplies are scarce and vast swathes of the area lie in ruins after Israel's military offensive.

UN humanitarian coordinator Ramesh Ramasingham told the UN Security Council on Tuesday there is "every possibility" the situation could deteriorate further. 

He said one in six children under the age of two in northern Gaza are suffering from “acute malnutrition and wasting,” where the body becomes emaciated.

Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the World Food Program (WFP), said Gaza is experiencing “the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world.” 

“If nothing changes, a famine is imminent,” he warned. 

In the latest example of Gaza's breakdown of civil order, Skau said the WFP resumed deliveries to north Gaza for the first time in three weeks on 18 February. 

He said the UN organisation hopes to send 10 trucks a day for seven days to address immediate food needs and reassure people sufficient supplies will be arriving.

But on both 18 and 19 February, Skau added, WFP convoys faced delays at checkpoints, gunfire and other violence, while food was looted. 

Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Gaza on Feb. 18 as supplies dwindle.
Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Gaza on Feb. 18 as supplies dwindle.Fatima Shbair/AP

“At their destination, they were overwhelmed by desperately hungry people,” he said.

“The breakdown in civil order, driven by sheer desperation, is preventing the safe distribution of aid and we have a duty to protect our staff," Skau continued. 

This forced the WFP to suspend aid deliveries to the north until it could ensure the security of staff, alongside the people receiving assistance, he continued. 

Maurizio Martina, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s deputy director general, described the horrific state of sites for producing, processing and distributing food.

Since 9 October, “Israel’s reinforced blockade has included stopping or restricting food, electricity and fuel supplies, as well as commercial goods. This has affected the entire food supply chain in different ways,” he said.

Martina added that agricultural production in the north was already collapsing and in the most likely scenario will stop completely by May. 

Israel’s deputy UN ambassador Brett Miller told the UN council that while fighting Hamas it is doing “all it can to care for civilians” and is working constantly to ensure the entry of international humanitarian aid. 

In recent days, Miller said, 508 trucks have been waiting to cross into Gaza with Israeli approval. “So where is the UN and its aid agencies? How can it be that Israel is libelously held responsible for a situation that is clearly the UN’s fault?” he asked.

UN humanitarian coordinator Ramasingham, WFP’s Skau and FAO’s Martina all had a similar response: The first step to eliminating the looming threat of famine is a ceasefire so humanitarian workers can enter Gaza safely.

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