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Gaza on the brink as one in four people face extreme hunger

As a new report sounds famine warning, WFP and partners struggle to respond in an ever-shrinking space
, Marwa Awad
A women-led cooperative in Rafah in Gaza uses firewood, in the absence of gas, to cook WFP hot meals for internally displaced Palestinians. Photo: WFP/Ali Jadallah
A women-led cooperative in Rafah in Gaza uses firewood, in the absence of gas, to cook WFP hot meals for internally displaced Palestinians. Photo: WFP/Ali Jadallah

Gaza risks falling into famine unless access to adequate food, clean water, health and sanitation services is urgently restored. The entire population – about 2.2 million people – is suffering crisis or worse levels of food insecurity. 

That is the alarming conclusion of a new Integrated Food Security Phase Classification report released on Thursday (22 December).

This latest food security analysis for Gaza - which includes data from the World Food Programme (WFP), other UN agencies and non-governmental organizations - reveals that more than one in four households face extreme hunger.

Ten weeks in, the conflict shows no signs of abating. Humanitarian access has significantly diminished, with a breakdown in the basic services needed to run operations and aid workers struggling to survive the conflict while carrying out their duties.

Video: 'No phone, no internet, no radio' - Emergency Telecommonications Cluster in Gaza

“The majority of our teams on the ground are national staff who are living this crisis while also making efforts to address it. Many of them have been displaced three or four times and living in shelters, but they have continued to deliver,” World Food Programme (WFP) Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau told reporters at a UN briefing in New York last week.

“There is a serious bottleneck at the Rafah border crossing and what comes through is very sporadic. Our teams are sitting on the other side of the border waiting to pick up what comes through so this is not done in a sustainable way,” said Skau.

For the first time since the conflict erupted in October, two aid convoys crossed into Gaza from Jordan and through Israel's Kerem Shalom after extensive coordination between WFP and authorities to increase the flow of aid.  It is hoped this crucial first step, bringing 750 metric tons of life-saving food, could pave the way for a more sustainable aid corridor through Jordan. 

But intense combat and bombardment continue to pose major challenges for humanitarians on the ground trying to reach people on the frontlines of the ongoing crisis.

Aid deliveries and distributions have become exceedingly challenging since the start of combat in October. Five power blackouts have hindered humanitarian operations and humanitarians' access to vital information they need to deliver aid.

Although WFP and partners reached 799,000 people in Gaza with food in November, access was slow and irregular due to limited fuel, no electricity and only one functioning border crossing into the embattled strip.

Shrinking space

A seven-day pause enabled aid to flow. WFP and partners doubled distribution points outside UN shelters to reach people in the badly hit districts of Khan Yunis, Deir El Balah, Gaza City and Al Nusayrat, among others. When fighting resumed on 1 December and the frontlines shifted, those areas became inaccessible again.

“We have given up on asking for assistance and where to get it,” said Hussein Kahlout in Deir El Balah where areas designated for food distributions are no longer safe. “Now we ask whether we will survive another day.” Kahlout, 45, is among hundreds of thousands in Gaza who remain trapped in hard-to-reach areas and cut off from any humanitarian assistance.

Palestine. Family cooking on the rubble of their home
A Gazan family burns waste for fuel amid a shortage in cooking gas. Humanitarian access is shrinking rapidly and many risk being cut off from aid. Photo: WFP/Ali Jadallah

“People in Gaza city do not even have the freedom to search for food. Anyone who moves would be risking their lives,” said Hind Khoudary, with WFP in the Rafah side of Gaza where UN makeshift shelters have been set up. “Neighbours have opened their doors to share whatever they have between them."

Yet more than half a million people in Gaza are starving, with nine out of ten Palestinians eating less than one meal a day and struggling to find clean, drinkable water. Hungry and weak, more Gazans are falling sick – their compromised immunity making them susceptible to disease. 

Palestine. Aid workers and men go through the rubble to save lives
Aid workers are struggling to keep pace with growing needs as the conflict in Gaza intensifies. Photo: WFP/Mostafa Ghroz 

All but one of WFP’s 25 contracted bakeries in Gaza have been destroyed in the bombardment. One of WFP’s long-standing partners Jamal AbuAitah, who owned a dairy factory that supported WFP’s food assistance programmes in Gaza prior to the conflict, died along with his family in the shelling.

And with all commercial activities grinding to a halt, shops have been mostly empty and prices of the little-available food in the markets have soared.

Palestine. WFP provides hot meals for internally displaced Gazans in Rafah UN shelters
WFP provides hot meals to internally displaced people in UN shelters in Rafah, Gaza. The meals are cooked using firewood, in the absence of gas. Photo: WFP/Ali Jadallah

WFP, along with humanitarian organizations and the international community, calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the opening of all border crossings, to enable unhindered aid deliveries at scale and prevent starvation in the strip.


This story was updated on Friday 22 December to reflect new IPC figures and provide more details on newly granted access to Gaza via Jordan.

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