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Northern Gaza in 'full-blown' famine: Senior UN official

FILE - Palestinians crowd together as they wait for food distribution in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 8, 2023.
FILE - Palestinians crowd together as they wait for food distribution in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 8, 2023. Copyright Hatem Ali/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Hatem Ali/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Joshua Askew
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The UN World Food Programme (WFP) director said the comprehensive famine in northern Gaza might spread south.

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Northern Gaza is experiencing "full-blown" famine, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Director Cindy McCain. 

"Whenever you have conflicts like this, and emotions rage high, and things happen in a war, famine happens," she said during an interview with NBC aired on Saturday. 

"What I can explain to you is - is that there is famine - full-blown famine - in the north." 

McCain warned mass starvation was "moving its way south", where the vast majority of Gaza's population has fled fighting between Israel and Hamas. 

The UN has claimed since mid-March that northern Gaza is "nearing" a state of famine, though the organisation has not yet officially stated one had begun.

Human Rights Watch recently reported that children were dying from starvation-related complications in Gaza, claiming Israel was using starvation as a "weapon of war" - a war crime under international law.  

Palestinians displaced by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip make tea at the makeshift tent camp in the Muwasi area on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023.
Palestinians displaced by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip make tea at the makeshift tent camp in the Muwasi area on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023.Fatima Shbair/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also said in March that Israel was "provoking famine" as a weapon of war. 

Israeli officials have rejected these accusations. 

WFP Director McCain pointed to severe food shortages and food insecurity in northern Gaza, saying the people needed  "water, sanitation, medicine."

She said the WFP had seen “real horror" on the ground, which was "very difficult to look at or hear".

The senior UN official called for a ceasefire as a way of feeding people "in a much faster fashion." 

Contestation over the cause of food insecurity

Israel has been repeatedly accused of blocking or obstructing aid deliveries to northern Gaza, though humanitarian organisations have said the number of lorries being let in has increased since May. 

Aid convoys carrying vital have also reportedly been fired upon by Israeli forces, while others have been looted by desperate crowds and criminal gangs. 

World Central Kitchen, a US-based nonprofit group, resumed operations on Monday after seven of its aid workers were killed by an Israeli airstrike in April. It has distributed over 43 million meals across Gaza. 

Israel has denied such claims. It instead blamed the UN and other international organisations for logistical problems and delays. 

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to let more aid into Gaza, amid claims by international organisations only a fraction of the aid needed was getting in.  

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said earlier this week there had been incremental progress toward averting “an entirely preventable, human-made famine” in the northern Gaza Strip. 

He urged the international community to “do everything possible" to avert a crisis.

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