USAID Administrator Samantha Power

USAID Administrator Samantha Power testifies at a hearing in Washington, D.C. on April 9, 2024.

(Photo: Allison Bailey/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images)

USAID Chief Admits Famine Is Underway in Gaza as US Keeps Arming Israel

"In northern Gaza, the rate of malnutrition prior to October 7th was almost zero, and it is now one in three—one in three kids," said Samantha Power.

The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development admitted during congressional testimony on Wednesday that famine is already underway in the Gaza Strip, publicly confirming an assessment that her agency's officials outlined in a cable to the White House last week.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power, a well-known liberal interventionist and the author of a famous book on American leaders' failure to act in the face of genocide, answered in the affirmative after U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) asked whether "famine is already occurring" in Gaza, which is under a suffocating Israeli siege and relentless bombing campaign.

"Yes," said Power. "In northern Gaza, the rate of malnutrition prior to October 7th was almost zero, and it is now one in three—one in three kids."

During her opening statement at Wednesday's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Power said that "nearly the entire population" of Gaza is "living under the threat of famine."

"USAID teams have been working day and night to address the catastrophic humanitarian crisis," said Power, who earlier this year was confronted by current and former USAID officials over the Biden administration's support for Israel's assault on the Palestinian territory, which the United Nations' highest court has deemed a plausible genocide.

The hearing was interrupted by peace activists with CodePink, who pointed to the number of children Israeli forces have killed in Gaza and condemned the USAID chief for "not using her power and influence to end" the assault.

"Will Samantha Power continue to be a bystander and be complicit in genocide? Or will she, in her own words, be an upstander to stop the genocide?" asked Jennifer Koonings, one of the activists who took part in the protest.

Power's remarks to the House panel came after HuffPost's Akbar Shahid Ahmed reported that USAID officials drafted a cable describing the spread of malnutrition in Gaza as "unprecedented in modern history" and warning that deaths from starvation will likely "accelerate in the weeks ahead"—echoing the conclusions of U.N. experts and human rights organizations.

The cable, Ahmed wrote, "shows the Biden administration is aware of the risk that the death toll there will rise dramatically as it continues to support Israel's operation and resist calls for a permanent end to the war."

Last week, hours after Israeli forces killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers in a series of targeted airstrikes, The New York Timesreported that the Biden administration is pressing Congress to approve a proposed sale of $18 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Israel despite U.S. laws barring aid deliveries to nations committing war crimes and obstructing the delivery of American humanitarian assistance.

In late March, the Biden administration quietly approved weapons packages that included more than 1,800 2,000-pound bombs, which the Israeli military has repeatedly dropped on densely populated areas of Gaza.

"The idea that we have supplied and are continuing to supply 2,000-pound bombs which could wipe out an entire block and other military aid is unacceptable," U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told journalist Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired earlier this week.

"There is an imminent risk of famine for the majority, if not all, the 2.2 million population of Gaza. This is not a point in debate."

Fears of mass starvation in the Gaza Strip have mounted in recent days as Israel continues to restrict the flow of necessary aid to Gaza, sparking accusations that the Netanyahu government is using hunger as a weapon of war—a grave violation of international law.

"There is an imminent risk of famine for the majority, if not all, the 2.2 million population of Gaza," David Satterfield, the U.S. special envoy for Gaza humanitarian efforts, said Wednesday during a virtual event hosted by the American Jewish Committee.

"This is not a point in debate," he added. "It is an established fact, which the United States, its experts, the international community, its experts assess and believe is real."

A report released earlier this week by the International Crisis Group found that the Israeli government has been directing limited Gaza aid to "big families who agree to embrace its agenda, while targeting those who refuse."

"It has not coordinated military with humanitarian action, endangering aid workers and recipients, and frequently halting convoys," reads the damning report. "It has attacked civilian police, citing links to Hamas, and compelled their retreat, which leaves supplies vulnerable to plunder, whether by profiteers or the desperately hungry. It has tried to work around the international aid system and its protocols for famine prevention and response, doling out assistance on an ad hoc basis in hopes of building a network to administer Gaza on its behalf after the war."

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