Children fall to hunger in Gaza as Israeli siege cuts off supplies

At least 20 people have died from malnutrition and dehydration at the north’s Kamal Adwan and Shifa hospitals, according to the Health Ministry. Most of the dead are children

March 09, 2024 09:29 am | Updated 11:16 am IST - Rafah

Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip.

Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip. | Photo Credit: Reuters

It’s not just Israeli bombs that have killed children in war-ravaged Gaza — now some are dying of hunger.

Officials have been warning for months that Israel’s siege and offensive were pushing the Palestinian territory into famine.

Hunger is most acute in northern Gaza, which has been isolated by Israeli forces and has suffered long cutoffs of food supplies. At least 20 people have died from malnutrition and dehydration at the north’s Kamal Adwan and Shifa hospitals, according to the Health Ministry. Most of the dead are children.

Particularly vulnerable children are also beginning to succumb in the south, where access to aid is more regular.

At the Emirati Hospital in Rafah, 16 premature babies have died of malnutrition-related causes over the past five weeks, one of the senior doctors said.

“The child deaths we feared are here,” Adele Khodr, UNICEF’s Middle East chief, said in a statement earlier this week.

Israel’s bombardment and ground assaults have already wreaked a high toll among children, who along with women make up three-quarters of the more than 30,800 Palestinians killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Malnutrition is generally slow to bring death, striking children and the elderly first. Underfed mothers have difficulty breastfeeding children. Diarrheal diseases, rampant in Gaza due to lack of clean water and sanitation, leave many unable to retain any of the calories they ingest, said Anuradha Narayan, a UNICEF child nutrition expert. Malnutrition weakens immune systems, sometimes leading to death from other diseases.

Also read:India deeply troubled by conflict in Gaza: Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj

Israel largely shut off entry of food, water, medicine and other supplies after launching its assault on Gaza following Hamas’ October 7 attack on southern Israel. It has allowed only a trickle of aid trucks through two crossings in the south.

Israel has blamed the burgeoning hunger in Gaza on U.N. agencies, saying they fail to distribute supplies piling up at Gaza crossings. UNRWA, the largest U.N. agency in Gaza, says Israel restricts some goods and imposes cumbersome inspections that slow entry.

U.N. officials said aids are snatched off trucks by hungry Palestinians on route to drop-off points.

With alarm growing, Israel bent to the U.S. and international pressure, saying this week it will open crossings for aid directly into northern Gaza and allow sea shipments.

Conditions in the north, largely under Israeli control for months, have become desperate.

Meat, milk, vegetables and fruit are nearly impossible to find, said the residents. The few items in shops are random and sold at hugely inflated prices.

Most people eat a weed that crops up in empty lots, known as “khubaiza.” Fatima Shaheen, a 70-year-old who lives with her two sons and their children in northern Gaza, said boiled khubaiza is their main meal, and her family has also ground up food meant for rabbits to use as flour.

“We are dying for a piece of bread,” she said.

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