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Gaza's famine risk peaks, urgent action needed

31 January 20244 min reading

In a recent Global Information and Early Warning System report (GIEWS), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) highlights the dire situation in the Gaza Strip, where the population is at risk of famine due to the ongoing conflict. “The risk of famine is very high, as the threshold for acute food insecurity has already been exceeded. The cessation of hostilities and unimpeded humanitarian access are urgently needed to avert the risk of famine,” warned the FAO.

The conflict has resulted in the collapse of local livelihood systems, displacing nearly 1.9 million people, representing approximately 85% of the population. Between December 2023 and February 2024, the entire population, numbering about 2.2 million, is anticipated to face acute food insecurity levels, including 577,000 people in the most severe category (IPC Phase 5 - Catastrophe).

The FAO emphasizes the urgency of ending hostilities and ensuring unimpeded humanitarian access to avert the looming risk of famine. Unfortunately, most humanitarian operations in the Gaza Strip have been disrupted due to access constraints and insecurity, exacerbating the crisis.

CONFLICT SHATTERS GAZA'S FOOD INFRASTRUCTURE

The conflict has significantly disrupted imports of both food and non-food items, causing a dramatic impact on food availability. The Gaza Strip, entirely dependent on imports, faces shortages in key staple foods, such as wheat and rice. “As of mid-November 2023, stocks of wheat flour, dairy products, mineral water and eggs were totally exhausted. Although some stocks of vegetable oil, rice and pulses were still available, their consumption has drastically declined due to shortages of means for cooking,” said the FAO.

Active fighting has resulted in widespread damage to food stocking facilities, flour mills, bakeries and market infrastructures. Markets have fully collapsed in northern areas, while they maintain some minimal functioning in central and southern areas. As a result, most imported food items are no longer available.

Agriculture, a crucial sector for the region's economy and livelihoods, has also been severely affected. Approximately 28% of cropland has been damaged. In addition, more than 20  percent of wells used for irrigation were destroyed, and most of agricultural infrastructures, including stores for agricultural produce and inputs, and livestock shelters were destroyed.

The livestock sector has witnessed substantial losses, with high percentages of cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry perishing due to military operations and lack of resources. “Based on field observations, about 70 percent of cattle and 45  percent of sheep and goats perished, while almost the entirety of poultry (over 15 million) was lost,” FAO noted.

CHALLENGES IN FOOD ACCESS 

Physical access to food is severely constrained by insecurity and the destruction of market infrastructure. Economic access is hampered by increasing food prices and low household purchasing power. Between September and November 2023, prices of wheat flour and rice increased by about 50%, while prices of vegetables increased nearly threefold. Economic activities and employment have declined by 85% since the conflict began in December 2023.

Moreover, the shortage of cooking gas has led to heightened reliance on alternative cooking fuels, exposing the population to respiratory risks. Lack of fresh food, safe water, and reliance on canned food contribute to decreased absorption of essential minerals and vitamins.

IMMEDIATE NEED FOR INTERNATIONAL ASSISTANCE

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, the entire population of the Gaza Strip is estimated to face high levels of acute food insecurity between December 2023 and February 2024, with a staggering 577,000 people in the Catastrophe phase. FAO warns that the risk of famine is very high, with one of the famine threshold indicators already surpassed. Urgent cessation of hostilities is crucial to providing unhindered humanitarian access and life-saving assistance. The international community is urged to mobilize support and take immediate action to address this escalating humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

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