Image source: © UNICEF/UNI495569/ZAGOUT
Shaima, 8, waits her turn to receive food in Rafah, southern Gaza.
- Author: Alejandra Martins
- Role, BBC News World
January 25, 2024
In addition to the risk of death or injury from Israeli bombings, aid groups say Gaza's population faces another serious danger: famine.
According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), an initiative of the United Nations and other aid organizations that analyzes the severity of food security crises around the world, More than half a million people in Gaza are in Phase 5, which results in “catastrophic conditions.”the greatest danger of famine.
Phase 5 is characterized by “households experiencing extreme food shortages and reduced coping skills.”
In one release Sentence, Eight UN rapporteurs accused Israel of “destroying the food system in Gaza and using food as a weapon against the Palestinian population.”.
The statement noted that 80% of the world's people affected by famine or catastrophic famine are in the Gaza Strip.
The BBC asked the Israeli Foreign Ministry for a response to the reporters' statement, and the Israeli government responded with a statement from its embassy in Geneva.
In it, Israel says it is “at war with Hamas, not the Palestinian people” and notes that “the claim that Gaza now accounts for 80% of the people facing famine around the world is nothing more than blatant disinformation is.”
Paula Gaviria Betancur is a human rights lawyer and United Nations rapporteur on the rights of internally displaced people.
More than 100 days after Israel's offensive in the strip began, air and ground strikes have killed more than 25,000 people, including more than 10,000 children, and injured nearly 60,000, according to Gaza's Health Ministry.
According to Israeli authorities, Israel launched its offensive following Hamas attacks on October 7 that killed nearly 1,200 people in southern Israel. More than 100 of the 240 hostages kidnapped and taken to Gaza remain captive.
BBC Mundo spoke to one of the UN rapporteurs who signed the statement accusing Israel of using food as a weapon of war, the Colombian human rights lawyer Paula Gaviria BetancurUN Rapporteur on the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons.
In their statement, the UN rapporteurs said that “all people in Gaza are hungry and famine is imminent.” Can you tell us something about the situation on site?
The situation in Gaza is perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis we have experienced in recent times, as it worsens every day at an unprecedented pace.
We see the death toll, the injured, the displaced, and now the number of hungry people growing, right under our noses, as we say in Spanish, every time you get up or open the computer.
The situation is critical. There is no care, protection or guarantee for the civilian population.
When Israel gave the population 24 hours to evacuate to the south in October, we realized that protection for civilians was nil.
The lack of access to aid, the few options for trucks to enter, and the difficulty of getting aid to arrive at the same time as the constant bombings, as well as the impact on hospitals, make life in Gaza impossible.
Image copyrightGetty Images
Tents in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, in the middle of winter. The vast majority of Gaza's 2.3 million people have been forced to leave their homes amid widespread destruction.
This is what the IPC said in its last Evaluation in Gaza that more than half a million people are already in phase 5 of a catastrophic famine. Could you talk specifically about food access?
What local people and humanitarian organizations are telling us is that today everyone living in Gaza goes to bed hungry and that fathers and mothers have to choose whether to feed themselves or their children.
Several UN experts have issued around ten statements since these Israeli attacks and aggressions began.
And I want to make it clear that, as we said at the beginning and continue to do so, every time we speak out we deplore the attack by Hamas and call for the release of those abducted.
Because there are also people and families who suffer and whose human rights are also violated. I wanted to clarify that.
Experts in the field say that in the various studies that have been carried out on the risk of hunger, especially in African countries, some in Latin America, there has never been a crisis or risk of hunger of this magnitude and severity. , and that it grew so quickly.
The population of Gaza is 2.3 million people and we are already reaching two or more million people, almost 90% of the population, displaced, which is reduced to a quarter or third of the Strip, completely overcrowded and in precarious conditions of deprivation Health and hygiene problems and lack of access to food.
So the IPC wants to warn because if there is a famine it is already too late and that is why it marks these five phases to prevent and act urgently.
What is the situation of the children? UNICEF warned that the number of children under 5 years old with diarrhea had jumped from around 48,000 to over 70,000 in a week, meaning more than 3,000 children of this age suffer from diarrhea every day.
According to UNICEF, there is a real possibility that hunger is already causing stunted growth, especially in children.
In other words, the impact on many children in Gaza is already irreversible, as their malnutrition prevents them from fully developing as any child their age could.
In the statement we say that at least 335,000 boys and girls under the age of five would be at risk of severe malnutrition. And that makes these children vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhea and, now in winter, respiratory diseases of the lungs.
Because of the hospital crisis, since only 12 or 13 of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are more or less functioning despite all the insecurity, these children cannot be cared for because we have to take care of the wounded, the people who are particularly hard-pressed.
There is also a whole public health problem, namely the impossibility of burying the bodies, the lack of water for hygiene and the whole problem of excretions. If the issue of hunger is added to this overall situation, the risks to health and life increase.
Image source: © UNICEF/UNI485697/El Baba
“The impact on many children in Gaza is already irreversible, as their malnutrition prevents them from fully developing.”
The rapporteurs point out that Israel is “destroying Gaza’s food system and using food as a weapon against the Palestinian people.” What do you base this statement on?
We talk about what the facts show, about what we experience every day, because thanks to the journalists who are taking impressive risks in their own lives and the people who are reporting the situation as best they can in the face of the communication blockage, we get information that shows us that people actually go to bed hungry.
We see the lack of access to the means of production to continue fishing and farming the land, the lack of access to the basic foods they had before, the lack of water or gasoline to be able to cook. They are facts.
And the problem of hospitals and of course the dead and injured are facts that we see and that are documented day after day.
So we rapporteurs are saying that by destroying the food system in Gaza, Israel is using food as a weapon of war against the Palestinian population.
This, together with the blockades and lack of access to humanitarian assistance, constitutes a war crime under the Rome Statute and the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions.
The rapporteurs are not the judges, we observe and give things the name that international law prescribes in the various protocols and statutes.
And it should be noted that even before October 7, most of Gaza's population was in need of humanitarian assistance and a 17-year blockade had been imposed on Gaza.
Image source: © UNICEF/UNI488853/El Baba
A mother prepares what she can for her family in Rafah.
In their statement, the eight UN rapporteurs affirmed that “Israel is destroying and blocking access to farmland and the sea.” They cite “recent reports that since October 7, about 22% of agricultural land in the northern Gaza Strip has been razed by Israeli forces.” And they mention reports that Israel has destroyed “approximately 70% of Gaza's fishing fleet.” …
Israel is not the only one destroying homes and public places with its air and ground attacks.
I said it in my first statement in October, when Israel issued the evacuation order. According to international humanitarian law, these evacuations were forced relocations of the population; they were not evacuations that took into account the population or the duty of caution or proportionality that would be necessary for a lawful evacuation.
In this case, they are arbitrary, illegal, they do not rely on the will of the people and the people who are evacuated have no home to return to since most of them have been destroyed.
The lack of protection of the population and indiscriminate attacks also affect everything in the area. And there are all the means of production, the warehouses where the food is stored are destroyed, the machines that process the food are destroyed.
In addition, I understand that the country is also affected by the bombings, by everything that the remnants of the war bring and which severely pollute the environment. And that will have to be measured later: the environmental impact.
BBC Mundo asked the Israeli Foreign Ministry for a response to the UN rapporteurs' statement. The ministry responded with a statement from the Israeli embassy in Geneva, which said:
“783 million people worldwide suffer from chronic hunger. “The claim that Gaza now accounts for 80% of the people affected by famine worldwide is nothing more than blatant misinformation.” What do you answer?
When talking about more than 780 million people with chronic hunger, they are referring to an annual food security report, the State of Food Insecurity Report, a report published by the FAO and various organizations around the world to measure what We are doing so much to achieve the sustainable development goal of “No Hunger”.
The indicator they use is the prevalence of malnutrition. This is an estimate of the proportion of the population whose habitual food intake is insufficient to provide the dietary energy required for a healthy life.
When we said in our statement that 80% of the world's people suffering from catastrophic hunger are in Gaza, we were referring to the CPI data, which measures the risk of famine.
Israel's answer refers to something else. These are not comparable measures.
For the IPC, Phase 5 is where households are in extreme food shortage after attempting to resolve the situation. In other words, they have tried everything and yet there remains an extreme shortage of food and the danger of starvation and death is obvious.
Furthermore, due to the scarcity, prices have increased and people do not have the money to buy what is available because the cost is completely high.
What is important here is that there is a risk of famine.
And in my life as a human rights defender, I have understood that prevention is a priority and that it cannot go to an extreme where it is decreed that there is nothing more to be done. With Gaza we have reached this border. We must act now before it is too late.
Image source: © UNICEF/UNI495572/ZAGOUT
More than half a million people in Gaza are in the phase of catastrophic hunger, the greatest risk of famine, according to the CPI.
In its response to the UN rapporteurs, Israel also points out that “before October 7, an average of 70 trucks of food entered Gaza every day, and in the last two weeks an average of 109 trucks of food entered Gaza.”
The Secretary General of the United Nations said it at the beginning when there was no inflow of aid. He said that before October 7, at least 500 aid trucks per day were regularly entering Gaza. That is already certain. This is the reality that was lived before.
These 500 trucks obviously contained food and medicine.
And access is now also an access that is subject to many restrictions. The trucks have to be controlled by the army, there are a number of equipment that are not allowed to enter, there are many restrictions and delays when humanitarian aid is urgently needed.
The little help that does arrive is neither quick nor unrestricted help and is clearly not enough.
Image source: © UNICEF/UNI488858/El Baba
A girl seeks shelter from the strong stench due to a lack of sanitation in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip.
The rapporteurs claim that Israel is “consciously and intentionally causing … high rates of disease … and malnutrition.” What are they based on to talk about intentionality?
As reporters, we rely on the information we receive from humanitarian workers on the ground. And we try to confirm the information we receive with various sources so that we can say what we say.
And then there are facts that show us the destruction of hospitals, of everything that has to do with access to health, with access to food, with the possibility of access to livelihood.
I have also said this in several statements: there is a lack of protection for the civilian population, including those who have complied with the evacuation orders, which Israel describes as a means of protection.
But they are evacuation orders that do not meet the requirements to ensure that they are not illegal: they are not voluntary, they are not temporary, they are not safe and, finally, the northern population that has gone south has nowhere to go to return.
This lack of protection, this neglect of the civilian population, which makes life in Gaza uninhabitable, leads us to conclude that the lack of protection for the civilian population, the lack of caution on the part of Israel is, in our opinion, conscious.
Civilians are obviously a target because of the events, the dead and the wounded that we see.
There is nothing that shows care. What we see is the opposite.
Image copyrightGetty Images
The risk of famine is exacerbated by the collapse of the health system due to bombing. “Despite all the insecurity, only 12 or 13 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are more or less functioning.”
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