Arif Husain and Bernie Sanders

Arif Husain, the World Food Program's chief economist, spoke with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on January 23, 2024.

(Photo: Sen. Bernie Sanders/X)

World Food Program Economist Warns 'Worst Is Yet to Come' in Gaza

The U.N. organization's chief economist spoke with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders about the "unprecedented" crisis conditions in Gaza as Israel continues to wage war on the besieged enclave.

Nearly four months into Israel's blockade and bombardment that has killed about 25,500 people in the Gaza Strip, the World Food Program's chief economist warned Tuesday that the "worst is yet to come" in the besieged Palestinian enclave.

That warning from the WFP's Arif Husain came in a livestreamed conversation with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

"In my opinion, this crisis is unprecedented," Husain said. "Three things... make this unprecedented. One is the scale."

The vast majority of Gaza's 2.3 million residents are facing crisis-level hunger, as the WFP and other United Nations organizations have highlighted throughout the war, which Israel launched on October 7 in retaliation for a Hamas-led attack.

"The second part is severity," Husain explained, with "half a million people literally starving." He also noted that much of the civilian infrastructure has been destroyed, leaving most people in Gaza displaced and with limited access to basic necessities.

"The third part of this is the speed at which it has happened," the economist added. "The other thing which is extremely troubling in this crisis and what makes it unprecedented is what is going to come next."

Husain stressed that "we are one step away from a disease outbreak," pointing to overcrowded shelters, showers, and toilets as well as people with weakened immune systems due to limited food, water, and medicine.

Children in Gaza are already dying of starvation. As Common Dreamsreported earlier Tuesday, one 46-year-old parent of five told the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor that their children "have been starving for more than a month, and we do not have any flour."

"We eat a small amount of rice each day, so when I learned that flour aid was available, I walked for 13 kilometers before the Israeli army opened their machine gun fire," said the parent, who requested anonymity for safety reasons. "We were hit by shells fired, resulting in several casualties. I managed to survive, without receiving any flour."

U.S. President Joe Biden has faced intense scrutiny for the United States' support of Israel as it wages war on Gaza. While Biden has called out Israel's "indiscriminate bombing" of the enclave, he has also requested a $14.3 billion package on top of the $3.8 billion that Israel gets in annual U.S. military aid and bypassed Congress to arm Israeli troops.

While Sanders—who is Jewish but not religious and briefly lived in Israel decades ago—has been criticized by progressives for not demanding a cease-fire in Gaza, he has spoken out against right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. support for the devastating war.

In response to the Israeli prime minister's recent rejection of a two-state solution, Sanders declared Saturday that "despite the illegal and inhumane actions of Netanyahu's government, President Biden has thus far offered unconditional support to Israel. That must change. President Biden must now loudly and clearly say NO to the policies of Netanyahu's right-wing extremist government."

"And Congress must act. There must be no more U.S. military aid to Israel to continue Netanyahu's war," the senator added. "Humanitarian aid must be immediately allowed to reach those in need. A safe release of all remaining hostages must be negotiated. Israel must work towards a lasting peace that allows two states for two peoples. If Netanyahu continues down the path of military domination, he must do so alone. The United States cannot be complicit."

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