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“I am seeing my son dying and I can’t do anything”: Children and Families in Northern Gaza Just Weeks Away from Famine

RAMALLAH (March 18, 2024)—Children and families in northern Gaza are just weeks away from famine, according to data released today by leading experts on food insecurity and malnutrition, with some of the thresholds needed to declare a famine already exceeded.  

New data from the global initiative of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC)—the global scale to classify food and nutrition crises—says 1.1 million people across Gaza, or at least half of the population, are facing catastrophic food insecurity (IPC Phase 5). With hunger even more extreme in northern Gaza, the IPC Special Brief projects famine will occur any time between now and May 2024.   

Even now, children and families are being forced to live off wheat, hay, and animal food, said Save the Children, with any future famine declaration likely to come after it's too late for too many people. The already accelerating child death rate will reach new extremes without an immediate, definitive ceasefire and unfettered aid access, the child rights organization said.   

The report comes just days after the UN warned that one in three children under the age of two in northern Gaza are now suffering from acute malnutrition, a rate that has doubled since January.   

Nada* is a mother of three boys. She fled northern Gaza to Rafah with her family when the war started. Nada* told Save the Children this week:  

“Our relatives came from the north three days ago. They say people there grind hay, wheat, and cattle food together to have something to eat. That’s not even proper food! They go from where they live to the sea where the aid drops happen, so they can get a can of freekeh [grain made from durum wheat] or mushrooms to eat. They live on weeds.”  

With access to, and communications with, communities in northern Gaza interrupted and sometimes completely cut off, Save the Children and other aid groups have struggled to reach people there. Aid groups are relying on testimonies from families who have fled to Rafah—the only place where any infrastructure is barely functioning, and where the population has swollen from 280,000 to 1.5 million in a matter of months. With families crammed in makeshift tents and a near total breakdown in food supply, clean water and sanitation systems, and healthcare, children in Rafah are suffering from starvation and disease.   

A Save the Children staff member in Rafah, Mariam,* said her one-year-old nephew is suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM)—a condition that weakens the immune system and exposes children to other diseases, in some cases doing lifelong developmental harm. Now, he has complications and is on a ventilator in an ICU.   

 Mariam* said:  

“He has a swollen belly and irregular breathing due to an upper respiratory tract infection. [...] This ordeal began two months ago when he was forced to relocate to a tent in Rafah. Shortly after, he started experiencing severe vomiting and diarrhea.   

“Now, owing to the harsh living conditions in the tents and the dearth of accessible healthcare services, he has been admitted to the ICU and is receiving mechanical ventilation. His mother said: 'I am seeing my son dying and can’t do anything.’ It’s really heartbreaking.”   

Already, reports from the Gaza Ministry of Health show at least 23 children have died because of malnutrition and dehydration in Gaza—and with services hanging by a thread, fuel scarcity, and roads destroyed, the real number is likely far higher.  

Conditions to safely and adequately provide humanitarian assistance to children in Gaza are deteriorating every week, Save the Children said. On March 13, one of the few remaining UNRWA food distribution centers in the Gaza strip was hit by Israeli forces, killing one staff member and injuring another 22 civilians.    

According to the UN, the daily average number of trucks entering Gaza with food, aid, and medicine dropped by more than a third in the weeks following the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling.    

Alternative methods of aid delivery such as air drops or a temporary port are no substitute for unimpeded humanitarian assistance via the already established land routes, Save the Children said.    

Any denial of humanitarian assistance is a Grave Violation against children, according to the UN Security Council’s 1999 Resolution on Children in Armed Conflict. It is also tantamount to collective punishment and illegal under international humanitarian law. 

Xavier Joubert, Country Director for Save the Children in the occupied Palestinian territory, said:    

“Make no mistake—it is a human-made crisis that has led as many as a third of Gaza’s children into the grips of acute malnutrition. There are trucks of food, water, and medical supplies queuing at one side of a border while children and families starve on the other.   

“We have a clear time frame to stave off famine, and it demands urgency. If a famine is declared, it will already be too late for too many people—children are famine’s first victims and are already dying in Gaza because of malnutrition. Every minute counts for them. It should be on the collective conscience of Israeli authorities and the international community that every day without an immediate, definitive ceasefire and unfettered access for and to humanitarian aid is another catastrophic day of starvation and suffering, another step towards famine and another death knell for Gaza’s children.”  


You can find the IPC report here.   

*Name changed to protect anonymity.

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