Half a million people in northern Gaza are facing severe food shortages and life-threatening illnesses due to the acute lack of food and water, according to the international non-governmental organization ActionAid.
As the death toll in Gaza surpassed the grim milestone of 10,000 people, the NGO warned on Wednesday that a near-total depletion of food and water supplies is further endangering the lives of those who have barely survived Israel’s bombardment.
After Hamas’ October 7 incursion into southern Israel, the government has vowed to pound the strip to wipe out militants and imposed a complete siege – cutting off supplies of water, food, and fuel to the territory’s 2.3 million residents.
International rights groups have warned that Israel’s “collective punishment” of Gazans has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the history of the world.
Starvation as ‘a weapon of war’
With markets running out of vital food supplies in the coming days, starvation has repeatedly been used as a weapon of war over the last month, ActionAid has warned.
“Nearly a month into the crisis, over half a million people trapped in northern Gaza who have barely survived the relentless bombing now face death by starvation as food supplies run perilously low,” Riham Jafari, Coordinator of Advocacy and Communication for ActionAid Palestine, said in a statement.
“Aid is still trickling into Gaza, but even the small amounts of food and water that make it over the border are barely able to be transported north, as roads have been destroyed in the near-constant bombardment.”
Cases of dehydration and malnutrition are increasing rapidly, according to Jafari.
Overstretched hospitals have not been able to offer any solace to those “on the brink of starvation as medical supplies run low, fuel is scarce, and bombs are indiscriminately dropped across Gaza, including on the footsteps of hospitals,” she said.
Heba, who is currently at a UN shelter in Gaza, told ActionAid that hundreds of Gazans were struggling to cope with the severe shortage of food and have had to queue for hours outside bakeries that have also been the targets of bombings.
“The situation in the Gaza Strip is very, very bad. People have been killed, may God have mercy on them, but the rest will die because of hunger. There is no food in the supermarket, no tinned food, no food,” the organization quoted Heba as saying.
“Regarding bread, we have to wait in line. We go at six in the morning and wait until the afternoon to get it. This is if you even manage to get some bread, of course. Apart from that, the water we drink is not suitable for human consumption.”
Sheltering with her children in a school in Gaza, Jumana told ActionAid that the lack of food and water has greatly impacted their health.
“There is suffering. A lot of the water is cut off. There is no electricity. Sleeping is uncomfortable. The food [we are eating] is tinned food, and this causes us [to get ill], and now the children are suffering from gastroenteritis.”
On average, people wait up to six hours to receive just half a normal bread portion, with many surviving on just two pieces of bread a day, according to the UN’s agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).
Supplies of essential food items such as vegetable oil, pulses, sugar, and rice have almost been entirely depleted, with markets running out of these essentials over the next few days, ActionAid’s statement said.
No access to safe water
With 11 bakeries destroyed entirely, supplies of flour will last for 23 days, but without fuel and water, it cannot be used to make bread.
A month into hostilities, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) is reporting a 92 percent reduction in water consumption as people have been forced to drink either brackish or contaminated water.
The scarcity of water across Gaza is increasing the risk of dehydration and kidney failure among patients on fuel-depleted dialysis machines, according to Jafari.
Between October 21 and November 7, only 26 trucks carrying vital water and sanitation supplies entered Gaza, according to OCHA, which is nowhere near enough to meet the essential needs for the survival of the population.
The limited supplies have not been able to reach people in the north due to the lack of fuel for transport and roads being severely damaged by Israel’s airstrikes, the UN office said.
Despite the desperate shortage of water, ActionAid said Israeli forces have continued to target critical water infrastructure, including a water tank in Tal al Zaatar in northern Gaza on Sunday, which led to water flooding out onto the streets.
Women and girls
Pregnant and breastfeeding women are also unable to produce milk for their newborns amidst acute water shortages, the Coordinator of Advocacy and Communication for ActionAid Palestine said in a statement.
“As food and water begins to run out entirely, mothers are struggling to feed and care for their families, sharply increasing the risks of malnutrition, disease, and death. Child deaths from dehydration- with infants particularly at risk of illnesses like diarrhea - are a growing threat,” Jafari said.
“Women and girls are also using period products longer than intended, leading to life-threatening illnesses such as toxic shock syndrome which cannot be treated with medical supplies nearly depleted, and hospitals completely overwhelmed.”
Sixty-five year old Myassar, who is currently sheltering in a school with her family after being displaced twice, said: “As you can see, there are no nappies, we also don’t have milk or clothes to wear or water to drink. The little ones want to wash, girls want to drink, women are dying of hunger. The little ones scream all day long. What have we done?”
The use of starvation as a weapon of war is a gross violation of International Humanitarian Law and the denial of basic human rights, ActionAid said in its statement.
“We’re again calling on the international community to find their conscience and push for an end to the hostilities. We need urgent action now: each day that passes without a ceasefire brings millions of people in Gaza closer to the brink of starvation.”
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