How a ceasefire and unrestricted aid access could yet prevent a famine in north Gaza

Analysis How a ceasefire and unrestricted aid access could yet prevent a famine in north Gaza
Displaced Palestinian children gather to receive food at a government school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 19, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 02 April 2024
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How a ceasefire and unrestricted aid access could yet prevent a famine in north Gaza

How a ceasefire and unrestricted aid access could yet prevent a famine in north Gaza
  • Some 300,000 people trapped in the enclave’s north face extreme food insecurity amid ongoing aid restrictions
  • Even if sufficient aid is permitted to enter Gaza, starving children will require specialist treatment, warn experts

LONDON: Desperate appeals from UN agencies urging Israel to allow aid into Gaza to alleviate hunger and avert an imminent famine in the north of the embattled Palestinian enclave appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Despite a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire and accusations of genocide by Francesca Albanese, the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has continued to bombard the area and limit the flow of aid.

A long queue of relief trucks remains stranded on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, even though “88 percent of the population faces emergency or worse food insecurity,” according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification scale.




Displaced Palestinians gather to collect food donated by a charity before an iftar meal on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on March 11, 2024. (AFP)

On March 26, 12 people are reported to have drowned and six others crushed to death in a stampede when desperate Palestinians tried to collect food packages dropped from the air off the coast of northern Gaza. 

The incident has prompted authorities in Gaza to call for an end to airdrops — an aid delivery method introduced by the US in early March as a workaround, but which critics have called “useless” and “flashy propaganda.” 

In an earlier incident, an aid package air-dropped into Gaza is reported to have crashed into a crowd of people waiting below, killing five and wounding several others, when its parachute failed to open.

The US and other aid agencies are now looking to establish a maritime aid corridor. However, with the necessary port infrastructure still under construction, this will take many months. 




Humanitarian aid being dropped on the Gaza Strip, west of Gaza City, on March 25, 2024. (AFP)

Unless a ceasefire takes effect immediately and aid organizations are granted full access, the IPC projects that famine will arrive in northern Gaza by April or May at the latest, impacting the roughly 300,000 people thought to remain in the area.

“The dire situation of people who are starving in the north of Gaza is entirely preventable, and aid agencies are ready to deliver food and other essential goods to those people,” Ruth James, Oxfam’s regional humanitarian coordinator, told Arab News.

“We just need an open border.”

In order to meet the minimum needs of Gaza’s stricken population, UN officials say between 500 and 600 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid and commercial goods must be permitted to enter the Gaza Strip every day. Since the conflict began, barely a fraction of that has arrived.




Trucks carrying humanitarian aid enter the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing with Egypt on November 24, 2023. (AFP)

Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, recently told the BBC that Israel bore significant blame for having created what amounts to a man-made famine, and that there was a “plausible” case that Israel was using starvation as a weapon of war.

Speaking to Katie Jensen, host of the Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking,” James Elder, a spokesperson for the UN children’s fund, UNICEF, this week said his agency would be able to respond quickly once restrictions are lifted.

“If there was a ceasefire and multiple entry points were opened up and restrictions were lessened in terms of getting aid in, there is no doubt we could turn around much of this humanitarian catastrophe, particularly the nutritional situation for the most vulnerable,” he said.




A Palestinian woman who fled Khan Yunis prepares food for her family at a camp set in the southern Gaza Strip Rafah region on February 15, 2024. (AFP)

Despite reports from aid agencies and news outlets claiming that Israel is deliberately withholding deliveries of humanitarian relief, Israeli officials insist they are allowing unlimited supplies to flow into the enclave via Gate 96 — a new entry point into the north.

“As much as we know, by our analysis, there is no starvation in Gaza. There is a sufficient amount of food entering Gaza every day,” Colonel Moshe Tetro, head of Israel’s Coordination and Liaison Administration for Gaza, said in a statement on March 22, according to Reuters.

The following day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the Rafah border crossing in Egypt’s northern Sinai, where truckloads of international relief for Gaza waited as Israel continued to obstruct their mission.

Describing the situation as a “moral outrage,” the UN chief said: “Here, from this crossing, we see the heartbreak and heartlessness of it all. A long line of blocked relief trucks on one side of the gates, the long shadow of starvation on the other.”

INNUMBERS

16.5% Children under the age of five in north Gaza deemed to be acutely malnourished. (IPC)

27 Gazans in the north who have already died of starvation. (CARE)

500 Trucks per day required to meet minimum needs of Gazans. (UN)

Aid organizations believe the only way to save lives in Gaza is to immediately halt the violence and open all border crossings, including Rafah and Kerem Shalom, to facilitate the unrestricted delivery of aid.

“Israel needs to open all entry points to us and our humanitarian partners so that we could get a consistent flow of food supplies across border entries and also crossing points within Gaza in order to reach the north, where famine is imminent,” Shaza Moghraby, spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme, told Arab News.

“As far as the WFP is concerned, we need at least 300 trucks every single day, throughout the Gaza Strip, to meet basic food needs, especially in the north. WFP has only managed to bring 11 convoys to the north since the start of the year. 

“Daily deliveries are needed to avert famine. For many families, it is already (too) late. Right now, we are seeing people dying — children dying — from hunger-related causes or a combination of malnutrition and disease. 

“Those tens of people can easily become hundreds and thousands if we do not act right now and have the access that we need.”




A general view shows the damage in the area surrounding Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital after the Israeli military withdrew from the complex housing the hospital on April 1, 2024. (AFP)

At least 27 Palestinians in northern Gaza, 23 of them children, have already died from acute malnutrition and dehydration, according to a March 14 report by CARE, an international NGO fighting world hunger.

According to the IPC, around 16.5 percent of children under five years of age in the north of Gaza were severely malnourished as of February. That figure is now likely far higher.

UNICEF’s Elder said that although aid agencies “have contingency plans always” and are prepared for worst-case scenarios, it is unlikely that “anyone planned for the scenarios that we see now for the fastest decline into catastrophic food (shortages) since the nutrition body (IPC) announced its findings a week or so ago.”




Aid organizations believe the only way to save lives in Gaza is to immediately halt the violence and open all border crossings. (AFP)

However, even if an unrestricted flow of aid is permitted to enter the embattled enclave, the starving population, especially children, will require special medical and dietary attention in order to recover, said Nourhan Attallah, a nutritionist and pharmacist based in southern Gaza.

“The impact of famine on children extends beyond just vitamin deficiencies and weight loss; it affects all the body’s systems, including the brain,” Attallah told Arab News. 

Starvation takes a toll on “the kidneys and liver due to insufficient protein consumption. Heart problems then develop as a result of kidney function defects, stomach and digestive system problems, dehydration, and diarrhea. Without timely treatment, these complications ultimately lead to death.”

She added: “The brain can also shrink in size as a result of malnutrition. Reduced reward response, emotional changes and inflexibility may also develop.” However, with medical help, death from malnutrition can be prevented.

“We can certainly save children, infants and even adults from the specter of malnutrition if we implement rapid and correct therapeutic intervention,” said Attallah. “The recovery rate in cases of malnutrition is high, reaching 90 percent, provided immediate intervention is provided and the appropriate conditions for treatment are ensured.”




Palestinian children suffering from malnutrition receive treatment at a healthcare center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 5, 2024. (AFP)

Elaborating on the intervention needed, she said: “Severely malnourished children need to be fed and rehydrated with great care. They cannot be given a normal diet immediately. They’ll usually need special care in hospitals.

“Once they’re well enough, they can gradually eat normally. They need pre-prepared meals with a high density of nutrients and calories, and they must eat every two hours, and take supplements and vitamins as well.”

Humanitarian organizations are well-aware of these special needs in the case of catastrophic hunger and starvation.

Moghraby, of the WFP, said that while humanitarian organizations “need to flood the Gaza Strip with basic food supplies, we need our people — WFP and other UN agencies — to go in there, to monitor and administer the distributions with guarantees for the safety of people and staff.”

This is “to make sure those children who have been starving — whose bodies have been denied food for such a long time — get the special nutritional products they need, because it can be very dangerous to consume just any diet.




Palestinian children react as they gather to collect aid food in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on February 26, 2024. (AFP)

“We’ve seen this in Yemen and other places. This is what we’re appealing for. It’s not just any food — we need to be very, very careful about the kinds of food delivered to the areas that have been experiencing starvation.”

Oxfam’s James echoed Moghraby’s warning. “Specialized services can be scaled up to provide therapeutic food and in-patient care for extremely malnourished people,” she said.

However, “in order to scale up these services, a ceasefire and increase in access across the border are required.”

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UN warns of new flashpoint in Sudan’s Darfur region

UN warns of new flashpoint in Sudan’s Darfur region
Updated 20 April 2024
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UN warns of new flashpoint in Sudan’s Darfur region

UN warns of new flashpoint in Sudan’s Darfur region

United Nations, US: Senior UN officials warned the Security Council on Friday of the risks of a new front opening in Sudan, around the town of el-Fasher in Darfur, where the population is already on the brink of starvation.
After a year of war between the armed forces (SAF) of General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (FSR), under the command of General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the country is experiencing “a crisis of epic proportions... wholly man-made,” denounced Rosemary DiCarlo, UN under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs.
“The warring parties have ignored repeated calls to cease their hostilities... Instead, they have stepped up preparations for further fighting, with both the SAF and the RSF continuing their campaigns to recruit civilians,” DiCarlo said.
In particular, she voiced concern at reports of a possible “imminent” attack by the RSF on el-Fasher, the only capital of the five Darfur states it does not control, “raising the specter of a new front in the conflict.”
El-Fasher acts as a humanitarian hub for Darfur, which is home to around a quarter of Sudan’s 48 million inhabitants.
Until recently, the town had been relatively unaffected by the fighting, hosting a large number of refugees. But since mid-April, bombardments and clashes have been reported in the surrounding villages.
“Since then, there have been continuing reports of clashes in the eastern and northern parts of the city, resulting in more than 36,000 people displaced,” said Edem Wosornu, a director at for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, noting that Doctors Without Borders has treated more than 100 casualties in el-Facher in recent days.
“The total number of civilian casualties is likely much higher.”
“The violence poses an extreme and immediate danger to the 800,000 civilians who reside in el-Fasher. And it risks triggering further violence in other parts of Darfur,” she warned.
DiCarlo added that fighting in el-Fasher “could unleash bloody intercommunal strife throughout Darfur” and further hamper the distribution of humanitarian aid in a region “already on the brink of famine.”
The region was already ravaged more than 20 years ago by the scorched-earth policy carried out by the Janjaweed — Arab militiamen who have since joined the RSF — for then-president Omar Al-Bashir.
The new conflict in Sudan, which began on April 15, 2023, has already claimed thousands of lives and displaced more than 8.5 million people, according to the UN.


US says UN World Food Program has agreed to help in distribution of aid to Gaza via sea route

US says UN World Food Program has agreed to help in distribution of aid to Gaza via sea route
Updated 20 April 2024
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US says UN World Food Program has agreed to help in distribution of aid to Gaza via sea route

US says UN World Food Program has agreed to help in distribution of aid to Gaza via sea route
  • US officials say they were working with WFP on how to deliver the aid to Palestinian civilians “in an independent, neutral, and impartial manner”
  • The NGO group World Central Kitchen stopped its aid distribution work after an Israeli attack killed seven aid workers on April 1

WASHINGTON: The UN World Food Program has agreed to help deliver aid for the starving civilians of Gaza once the US military completes a pier for transporting the humanitarian assistance by sea, US officials said Friday.

The involvement of the UN agency could help resolve one of the major obstacles facing the US-planned project — the reluctance of aid groups to handle on-the-ground distribution of food and other badly needed goods in Gaza absent significant changes by Israel.
An Israeli military attack April 1 that killed seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen intensified international criticism of Israel for failing to provide security for humanitarian workers or allow adequate amounts of aid across its land borders.
President Joe Biden, himself facing criticism over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza while supporting Israel’s military campaign against Hamas, announced March 8 that the US military would build the temporary pier and causeway, as an alternative to the land routes.
The US Agency for International Development confirmed to The Associated Press that it would partner with the WFP on delivering humanitarian assistance to Gaza via the maritime corridor.
“This is a complex operation that requires coordination between many partners, and our conversations are ongoing. Throughout Gaza, the safety and security of humanitarian actors is critical to the delivery of assistance, and we continue to advocate for measures that will give humanitarians greater assurances,” USAID said in its statement to the AP.
US and WFP officials were working on how to deliver the aid to Palestinian civilians “in an independent, neutral, and impartial manner,” the agency said.
There was no immediate comment from the WFP, and an WFP spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
Israel promised to open more border crossings into Gaza and increase the flow of aid after its drone strikes killed the seven aid workers, who were delivering food into the Palestinian territory.

The war was sparked when Hamas militants attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking some 250 others hostage. The Israeli offensive in Gaza, aimed at destroying Hamas, has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,800 people, according to local health officials. Hundreds of UN and other humanitarian workers are among those killed by Israeli strikes.
International officials say famine is imminent in northern Gaza, where 70 percent of people are experiencing catastrophic hunger.
The US military will be constructing what’s known as a modular causeway as part of the maritime route, in hopes that handling the inspection and processing of the aid offshore will speed the distribution to Gaza’s people.
Offshore, the Army will build a large floating platform where ships can unload pallets of aid. Then the aid will be transferred by Army boats to a motorized string of steel pier or causeway sections that will be anchored to the shore.
Several Army vessels and Miliary Sealift Command ships are already in the Mediterranean Sea, and are working to prepare and build the platform and pier.
That pier is expected to be as much as 1,800 feet (550 meters) long, with two lanes, and the Pentagon has said it could accommodate the delivery of more than 2 million meals a day for Gaza residents.
Army Col. Sam Miller, commander of the 7th Transportation Brigade, which is in charge of building the pier, said about 500 of his soldiers will participate in the mission. All together, Pentagon officials have said about 1,000 US troops will be involved.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, told reporters this week that the US in on track to have the system in place by the end of the month or early May. The actual construction of the pier had been on hold as US and international officials hammered out agreements for the collection and distribution of the aid.
He said the US has been making progress, and that Israel has agreed to provide security on the shore. The White House has made clear that there will be no US troops on the ground in Gaza, so while they will be constructing elements of the pier they will not transport aid onto the shore.
US Navy ships and the Army vessels will provide security for US forces building the pier.


Hamas chief Haniyeh arrives in Turkiye for talks

Hamas chief Haniyeh arrives in Turkiye for talks
Updated 20 April 2024
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Hamas chief Haniyeh arrives in Turkiye for talks

Hamas chief Haniyeh arrives in Turkiye for talks
  • Fidan said he spoke with Haniyeh, who lives in Qatar, about how Hamas — designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union — “must clearly express its expectations, especially about a two-state solution”

ISTANBUL: A leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, arrived in Istanbul Friday evening for talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the death toll in Gaza passed 34,000.
A statement from Hamas Friday said Erdogan and Haniyeh would discuss the conflict in Gaza, adding that the head of the group’s political bureau was accompanied by a delegation.
Middle East tensions are at a high after Israel’s reported attack on Iran and Gaza bracing for a new Israeli offensive.
Erdogan insisted on Wednesday that he would continue “to defend the Palestinian struggle and to be the voice of the oppressed Palestinian people.”
But talking to journalists on Friday, he refused to be drawn on the details on the meeting.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan was in Qatar Wednesday and said he spent three hours with Haniyeh and his aides for “a wide exchange of views in particular about negotiations for a ceasefire.”
Qatar, a mediator between Israel and Hamas, acknowledged Wednesday that negotiations to end hostilities in Gaza and liberate hostages were “stalling.”
Fidan said he spoke with Haniyeh, who lives in Qatar, about how Hamas — designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union — “must clearly express its expectations, especially about a two-state solution.”
Erdogan’s last meeting with Haniyeh was in July 2023 when Erdogan hosted him and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at the presidential palace in Ankara. Haniyeh had last met Fidan in Turkiye on January 2.
The war in Gaza started after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 people, mainly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
Militants also took about 250 hostages. Israel says around 129 are believed to be held in Gaza, including 34 presumed dead.
Israel’s retaliatory military campaign has killed at least 34,012 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.
 

 


Huge blast at military base used by Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, sources say

Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces advance towards the city of Tal Afar, Iraq. (AFP file photo)
Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces advance towards the city of Tal Afar, Iraq. (AFP file photo)
Updated 20 April 2024
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Huge blast at military base used by Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, sources say

Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces advance towards the city of Tal Afar, Iraq. (AFP file photo)
  • PMF sources said the strikes targeted a headquarters of the PMF at the Kalso military base near the town of Iskandariya around 50 km south of Baghdad

BAGHDAD: A huge blast rocked a military base used by Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) to the south of Baghdad late on Friday, two PMF and two security sources told Reuters.
The two security sources said the blast was a result of an unknown airstrike, which happened around midnight Friday.
The two PMF sources pointed out the strikes did not lead to casualties but caused material damage.
PMF sources said the strikes targeted a headquarters of the PMF at the Kalso military base near the town of Iskandariya around 50 km south of Baghdad.
Government officials did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
The PMF started out as a grouping of armed factions, many close to Iran, that was later recognized as a formal security force by Iraqi authorities.
Factions within the PMF took part in months of rocket and drone attacks on US forces in Iraq amid Israel’s Gaza campaign but ceased to do so in February.

 


Leaders of Jordan and Pakistan call UAE president to express concern about effects of severe storm

Leaders of Jordan and Pakistan call UAE president to express concern about effects of severe storm
Updated 19 April 2024
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Leaders of Jordan and Pakistan call UAE president to express concern about effects of severe storm

Leaders of Jordan and Pakistan call UAE president to express concern about effects of severe storm
  • Leaders passed on their best wishes to the country as it recovers from the storms

DUBAI: The president of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, received telephone calls from King Abdullah of Jordan and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday, during which they expressed concern about the effects of the severe weather, including unusually heavy rainfall, that battered parts of the country this week.

They also passed on their best wishes to the country as it recovers from the storms and “conveyed their heartfelt hopes for the safety and prosperity of the UAE and its people, praying for their protection from any harm,” the Emirates News Agency reported.

Sheikh Mohammed thanked both leaders for their warm sentiments, and emphasized the strong bonds between the UAE and their nations.

The UAE and neighboring Oman were hit by unprecedented rainfall and flooding on Tuesday, with more than 250 millimeters of rain falling in parts of the Emirates, considerably more than is normally seen in a year. Dubai International Airport was forced to close temporarily when runways were flooded.