Palestinian children in need line up to receive food

Palestinian children in need line up to receive food as some volunteers prepare meals for displaced families in Rafah, Gaza on January 2, 2024.

(Photo: Yasser Qudih/Anadolu via Getty Images)

100 Days Into War on Gaza, UN Leaders Renew Call to Prevent Famine

"People in Gaza risk dying of hunger just miles from trucks filled with food," said the World Food Program executive director.

After Israel's war on the Gaza Strip hit the 100-day mark this past weekend, United Nations humanitarian leaders on Monday emphasized the risk of famine and disease in a joint demand for dramatically increasing the flow of aid in the besieged enclave.

The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Food Program (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) are calling for "the opening of new entry routes; more trucks being allowed through border checks each day; fewer restrictions on the movement of humanitarian workers; and guarantees of safety for people accessing and distributing aid."

Since October 7—when over 1,100 people were killed and around 240 others were taken hostage in the Hamas-led attack on Israel—U.S.-backed Israeli forces have killed more than 24,000 Palestinians in Gaza, displaced roughly 90% of the strip's 2.3 million residents, and devastated civilian infrastructure in what many world leaders and experts have decried as genocide, leading to a hearing at the International Court of Justice.

"People in Gaza are suffering from a lack of food, water, medicines, and adequate healthcare," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday. "Famine will make an already terrible situation catastrophic because sick people are more likely to succumb to starvation and starving people are more vulnerable to disease."

"We need unimpeded, safe access to deliver aid and a humanitarian cease-fire to prevent further death and suffering," he stressed, echoing weekend marches worldwide advocating for an end to the violence.

The most recent Integrated Food Security and Nutrition Phase Classification (IPC) report—based on conditions from November 24 to December 7—found that 93% of Gaza's population, or over 2 million people, faced high levels of acute food insecurity.

Now, humanitarians believe the entire remaining population of Gaza needs "some assistance of some kind," Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N.'s new resident coordinator, said Saturday. "And we are right now facing an uphill struggle to just address the needs of those who we reach. We need to reach far farther, far deeper... for other places like the north."

UNICEF projects that thousands of young children in Gaza could endure a significant rise in "the most life-threatening form of malnutrition" in the next few weeks without a serious increase in food access.

"Children at high risk of dying from malnutrition and disease desperately need medical treatment, clean water, and sanitation services, but the conditions on the ground do not allow us to safely reach children and families in need," said Catherine Russell, UNICEF's executive director.

"Some of the material we desperately need to repair and increase water supply remains restricted from entering Gaza," she continued. "The lives of children and their families are hanging in the balance. Every minute counts."

Just two southern border crossings have allowed aid through, and only after "a multi-layered vetting process," the U.N. leaders explained. "Once inside, efforts to set up service points for people in need are hampered by bombardments and constantly shifting battle fronts, which endanger the lives of ordinary Gazans and the U.N. and other humanitarian personnel striving to help them."

Cindy McCain, WFP's executive director, warned Monday that "people in Gaza risk dying of hunger just miles from trucks filled with food."

"Every hour lost puts countless lives at risk," she declared. "We can keep famine at bay but only if we can deliver sufficient supplies and have safe access to everyone in need, wherever they are."

U.N. leaders are calling for not only lifting barriers to humanitarian aid but also resuming commercial traffic into Gaza.

"The flow of aid has been a trickle in comparison to a sea of humanitarian needs," noted Phillip Lazzarini, commissioner-general for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

"Humanitarian aid will not be enough to reverse the worsening hunger among the population," he added. "Commercial supplies are a must to allow the markets and private sector to re-open and provide an alternative to food accessibility."

McGoldrick pointed out that "before this started, what you had was around 500 trucks per day coming in as commercial transport. And the U.N. served those who were unfortunate, not able to buy those things commercially."

Now, "we, the humanitarians, need to have about 200 trucks in a day," he said. "The people who were being served by the commercial sector are now squeezing what's in the humanitarian sector and everybody's in need."

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