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World Food Program suspends ‘life-saving’ aid deliveries to northern Gaza over security concerns

Children in northern Gaza were already facing catastrophic levels of malnutrition

Richard Hall
Tuesday 20 February 2024 23:51 GMT
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Challenges in delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza

The World Food Program has suspended what it described as “life-saving” aid deliveries into northern Gaza over safety concerns.

The United Nations agency said in a statement on Tuesday that the decision had “not been taken lightly,” but added that the pause would continue “until conditions are in place that allow for safe distributions.”

“Gaza is hanging by a thread and WFP must be enabled to reverse the path towards famine for thousands of desperately hungry people,” the agency said.

The suspension came despite warnings from the agency that people in Gaza are already dying from hunger-related causes, and that its teams on the ground were witnessing “unprecedented levels of desperation.”

“Food and safe water have become incredibly scarce and diseases are rife, compromising women and children’s nutrition and immunity and resulting in a surge of acute malnutrition. People are already dying from hunger-related causes,” the WFP said in its statement.

Israel’s war in Gaza, which was launched in response to a Hamas attack that killed 1,200 people, has caused a humanitarian catastrophe in the beleaguered territory.

The UN has warned that more than 500,000 people in Gaza are facing “catastrophic hunger,” and the risk of famine increases every day. That risk has been increased by the decision by Israel to block a significant number of aid trucks from entering Gaza. The UN said that 80 per cent of aid deliveries destined for northern Gaza were blocked by the Israeli army in January.

The WFP had already suspended its aid deliveries for three weeks prior to Tuesday’s decision due to an Israeli strike on a UNWRA truck. When it attempted to resume deliveries to northern Gaza again, it said the convoy was “surrounded by crowds of hungry people,” and staff were forced to fend off attempts to climb aboard the trucks. When it reached Gaza City it came under gunfire.

A second convoy faced “complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order,” the WFP said. It added that several trucks were looted and a truck driver was beaten.

Even before the suspension of aid deliveries, northern Gaza was facing an acute food crisis. In a report released a day before the announcement, the WFP and UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, found that around 15 per cent of children under 2 years of age in the north were “acutely malnourished.”

“Of these, almost 3 per cent suffer from severe wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition, which puts young children at highest risk of medical complications and death unless they receive urgent treatment,” the report noted.

“The Gaza Strip is poised to witness an explosion in preventable child deaths which would compound the already unbearable level of child deaths in Gaza,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director for Humanitarian Action and Supply Operations, Ted Chaiban.

“We’ve been warning for weeks that the Gaza Strip is on the brink of a nutrition crisis. If the conflict doesn’t end now, children’s nutrition will continue to plummet, leading to preventable deaths or health issues which will affect the children of Gaza for the rest of their lives and have potential intergenerational consequences.”

More than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s offensive in the densely populated territory, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

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