Urgent Action Needed Now in Gaza to Avert Famine-Scale Mortality 

Statement from Refugees International: 

“Gaza is being starved. The latest Gaza food crisis report released today is shockingly reminiscent of conditions that characterized past famines and hunger crises in places like Somalia, Yemen, and Ethiopia. Global leaders must immediately do all they can to stave off a devastating famine that would cost a huge number of lives.

Nearly every person in Gaza—90 percent the population—is experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity. That includes 42 percent of the population who are now at pre-famine levels and 17 percent at famine-equivalent levels of food insecurity. The announcement follows recent WFP warnings that civilians, largely women and children, face the ‘immediate possibility of starvation.’ On top of the severe damage the Israeli bombardment and siege has inflicted on  Gaza’s health system and water infrastructure, and reports of dramatic spikes in waterborne diseases among children, these findings signal a coming wave of famine-scale mortality. We are gravely concerned that nearly apocalyptic conditions loom if besiegement and conflict persist. Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza since fighting began has just passed 20,000, representing nearly 1 in every 100 people of Gaza’s population of 2.2 million people.   

Only a massive scale-up of humanitarian aid and resumption of essential commerce and services – which remain impossible under the current conflict conditions – can avert such an outcome. Refugees International reiterates our call for an immediate ceasefire to enable protection of civilians in Gaza, unfettered humanitarian access and basic service delivery, and the immediate release of all hostages. 

Unlike other global food crises, which are often fueled by climatic factors and global market dynamics, Gaza’s hunger emergency flows primarily from the Israeli government’s conduct of the war:

  • Since Israel’s leaders announced a “complete siege” approach to Gaza in the early days of the war, less than 10 percent of Gaza’s daily food needs have been allowed to enter the territory. Israeli restrictions on aid and commercial food have led to widespread market shortages across Gaza and skyrocketing prices for the limited food that does enter.
  • Bakeries have shut down due to Israeli government restrictions on the entry of fuel and Israeli airstrikes. WFP reports that a lack of fuel has forced it to shutter the 23 bakeries serving its emergency food efforts, and forced the overall closure of 130 bakeries across Gaza, more than 11 of which have been hit by Israeli airstrikes. Gaza’s last remaining flour mill was also closed after being struck. 
  • Fuel restrictions and the ongoing blockade have undermined Gaza’s water and sanitation infrastructure, which is critical to survival and to basic nutrition. UNICEF reports that water systems are “at the point of collapse” and that Gazans are now averaging approximately half of the bare minimum survival level of 3 liters of water per person per day. The government of Israel is blocking the importation of piping, tanks, generators, and other supplies that would enable emergency repairs to improve water access.
  • The strikes that have reportedly damaged food and water infrastructure reflect a clear failure by the Israeli Defense Forces to protect civilian infrastructure critical to survival, as required by International Humanitarian Law. 
  • Even as food security conditions have collapsed, the Israeli government has prevented the conditions that could enable an adequate humanitarian response. They have continued to limit aid and commercial traffic; failed to protect humanitarian facilities and staff; obstructed aid access in parts of the territory; and failed to institute a viable “deconfliction” mechanism that would enable humanitarians to operate more safely.

In the context of the rapidly deteriorating hunger catastrophe, these practices by the Israeli government are consistent with the use of hunger as a weapon of war. Israeli government leaders have made clear statements of intent to besiege Gaza’s civilians; have conducted the war in a manner reflective of that intent, including blockade restrictions on food, water, and other essentials; and continue to block the type of urgent humanitarian scale-up that could otherwise avert a worst-case famine scenario. This behavior is strictly prohibited under international law, and echoes the practices of other governments that have used starvation as a weapon – such as the Ethiopian government’s targeting of food, water, and health infrastructure, and blockage of aid and commercial food imports, during the war in Tigray, or the Saudi-led coalition’s behavior in Yemen. The grievous crimes committed against Israel by Hamas do not justify unlawful behavior in response. The international community, and in particular the United States government, have an urgent responsibility to avert famine-scale mortality in Gaza. We call on the United States and other governments to apply all necessary pressure on Israel and Hamas to suspend hostilities, and upon Israel in particular to immediately cease the aforementioned practices that are producing this hunger catastrophe.”

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Etant Dupain at edupain@refugeesinternational.org.