One in five households in Gaza go whole days without food, draft UN report says

<span>Children waiting to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen in Khan Younis in June.</span><span>Photograph: Hatem Khaled/Reuters</span>
Children waiting to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen in Khan Younis in June.Photograph: Hatem Khaled/Reuters

More than half of households in Gaza have had to sell or swap their clothes to be able to buy food, the UN is to report, as a high risk of famine remains across the whole of the territory after a new round of violence in recent weeks.

The latest “Special Snapshot” of Gaza from the UN’s hunger monitoring system, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), that will be published on Tuesday also says that one in five of the population – more than 495,000 people – are now “facing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity” involving “an extreme lack of food, starvation, and exhaustion”.

The IPC said that in March and April, the amount of food deliveries and nutrition services reaching northern Gaza sharply increased, “likely averting a famine” there and helping to improve conditions in the southern parts of the territory.

But in recent weeks, the situation had “started deteriorating again following renewed hostilities” and “a high risk of famine persists across the whole of the Gaza Strip as long as conflict continues and humanitarian access is restricted,” a draft report obtained by the Guardian says.

“More than half [of households] also reported that, often, they do not have any food to eat in the house, and over 20% go entire days and nights without eating. The recent trajectory is negative and highly unstable. Should this continue, the improvements seen in April could be rapidly reversed.”

The warning comes despite months of US pressure on Israel to do more to facilitate aid efforts, the installation of a $230m US-built pier that has been beset by problems and repeated airdrops by multiple countries that aid agencies say are insufficient to meet vital needs.

Israel invaded Gaza after Hamas’s attack in October, in which Palestinian militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted about 250. The war has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry, which does not say how many were civilians or fighters.

Israel imposed a complete siege on the territory at the start of the war and has only gradually eased it under pressure from Washington. The war has destroyed most of Gaza’s capacity to produce its own food.

New crossings allowing aid into northern Gaza slightly improved access to food supplies there from May. But in the south, the crisis deepened after an Israeli military push into Rafah choked off the main entry routes for humanitarian assistance.

The IPC has so far stopped short of the rare move of declaring a famine, a term which, when used by food and emergency aid professionals, has a strict technical definition, with three conditions that must be met in a specific area. The agency’s famine review panel, an external body which would normally confirm or reject initial findings of a famine, has said there is not enough data to do either. Research was blocked by “conflict and humanitarian access constraints”, it said.

Stage 5 hunger, which affects 22% of Gaza’s current population, is equivalent to famine, but the IPC declares an entire area to be in famine only when 20% of households have an extreme lack of food, 30% of children suffer from acute malnutrition and at least two adults or four children per 10,000 people die daily.

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, has said Israeli restrictions on the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza may amount to the war crime of deliberate starvation. Entry into Gaza is controlled by Israeli authorities, movements require military permission, roads are damaged by rubble, fuel is in short supply and power and communications networks barely function.

Israel says it allows hundreds of trucks to enter through multiple crossings on a near-daily basis and blames UN agencies for not distributing it, saying containers are stacking up at Kerem Shalom, Gaza’s main cargo terminal. Israeli officials accuse Hamas of diverting aid meant for civilians to military purposes, a charge the group denies.

UN agencies and aid groups say they often cannot access Kerem Shalom because of fighting and that Israeli restrictions, difficulties coordinating with the army and the collapse of law and order greatly hinder their work. They say it is impossible to address the crisis without a complete ceasefire

The US has rallied international support behind a proposal that would lead to the release of the remaining hostages and a permanent ceasefire, but neither Israel nor Hamas have fully embraced it.

A food security report earlier in June said that months of extreme hunger in Gaza had already killed many Palestinians and caused permanent damage to children through malnutrition. The US-based famine early warning system network (Fews Net) said it was “possible, if not likely” that famine began in northern Gaza in April.

Two UN organisations said more than 1 million people were “expected to face death and starvation” by mid-July. The World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization also warned of the toll hunger is taking even without a declaration of famine in their Hunger Hotspots report on global food insecurity

A joint statement this week from the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and the EU crisis coordinator, Janez Lenarčič, said: “The crisis in Gaza has reached another breaking point … The delivery of any meaningful humanitarian assistance inside Gaza has become almost impossible and the very fabric of civil society is unraveling.”

Ahead of the release of the IPC report on Gaza, Kate Phillips-Barrasso, vice-president of global policy and advocacy at Mercy Corps, said: “People are enduring subhuman conditions resorting to desperate measures like boiling weeds, eating animal feed, and exchanging clothes for money to stave off hunger and keep their children alive.

“The humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly, and the spectre of famine continues to hang over Gaza … Humanitarian aid is limited … The international community must apply relentless pressure to achieve a ceasefire and ensure sustained humanitarian access now. The population cannot endure these hardships any longer.”