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Gaza: Starvation claims more young lives as UN advocates for new aid routes

Days from the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan and with no ceasefire agreement in sight for Gaza, UN humanitarians reiterated deep concerns on Thursday that a growing number of children are dying of starvation. 

The situation is appalling. Every minute, every hour, it is getting worse,” the UN agency for Palestinians, UNWRA, said in a tweet on X, formerly Twitter.

A maximum of 150 lorries have been reaching Gaza every day. In the north, one in six children under the age of two is acutely malnourished and media reports have indicated that at least 20 youngsters have died from starvation in recent days, including a 14-day-old baby.

Later on Thursday, the UN Security Council held consultations on the situation behind closed doors and was briefed by Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator Sigrid Kaag.

‘Massive’ aid scale up needed

Speaking to the press after the briefing, Ms. Kaag highlighted that her message to the ambassadors was the need for predictable and massively increased quality humanitarian assistance at scale for civilians in Gaza.

“We need to flood the market in Gaza with humanitarian goods as well as re-energize the private sector so commercial goods can enter to meet the need of civilians,” she said.

She also reiterated that humanitarian assistance “is not an exercise in counting trucks”.

“We need to know that it meets the needs and volume,” she added.

Ms. Kaag also highlighted the importance of diversifying the supply routes via land, which remains the optimal solution. It is easier, faster, cheaper and more sustainable in the long run, she said, noting also the importance of opening additional crossings.

Referring to reports of countries working on the establishment of a maritime corridor to Gaza, Ms. Kaag said that such measures to scale up aid were welcomed. 

At the same time, humanitarian supplies via air or sea are “not a substitute for what we need to see arrive on land”, she said.

Over 30,000 killed

Well over 30,000 people have now been killed amid intense daily Israeli bombardment across Gaza in response to Hamas-led terror attacks in Israel on 7 October that left some 1,200 dead and more than 240 taken hostage.

Negotiations initially in Qatar and this week in Cairo for a ceasefire linked to the release of the remaining approximately 100 hostages and far greater aid access throughout Gaza have so far not resulted in an end to the violence nor alleviated the humanitarian catastrophe.

Two million people depend on UNRWA operations for survival, as famine looms around the corner, especially in northern Gaza.
Two million people depend on UNRWA operations for survival, as famine looms around the corner, especially in northern Gaza.

Northern access hope

In the absence of a deal between Hamas and Israel, UN aid teams on Thursday planned to explore the feasibility of using an Israeli military access road to northern Gaza to transport a minimum of 300 aid trucks every day.

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The UN’s top aid official in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Jamie McGoldrick, announced the aid convoy initiative on Wednesday. He explained that it would enable trucks laden with humanitarian supplies to reach vulnerable people in the north of the enclave without having to negotiate obstructions and insecurity.

“We have to use this military road, this fenced road at the side, on the eastern side (of Gaza), to allow material to come from the crossing points at Kerem Shalom and Rafah all the way up to the north, into the north and to a crossing point there,” insisted Mr. McGoldrick, Humanitarian Coordinator Ad Interim for the OPT, in a video briefing to journalists. “We have to get up at least 300 trucks a day. Right now, we're lucky if we are getting about 150.”

Ahead of the start of Ramadan on Sunday, the veteran humanitarian official noted that relief supplies entering Gaza in February had fallen by half compared with January despite the “enormous and growing needs for over 2.3 million people living in appalling conditions”.

Fishing livelihoods devastated

The catastrophic food insecurity situation in Gaza received renewed attention at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday, where UN Special Rapporteur for food Michael Fakhri said that nearly 75 per cent of the enclave’s fishing sector had been devastated by Israeli bombardment.

Israel has mounted a starvation campaign against the Palestinian people in Gaza, and one way it is doing this is by targeting small-scale fishers,” he told the forum’s 47 Member States. 

Since 7 October, the independent rights expert maintained that Israel had denied all access to the sea, impoverishing previously comfortable fishers

“Israeli forces decimated the Port of Gaza, destroying every single fishing boat and shack,” he said. “In Rafah, only two out of 40 boats are left. In Khan Younis, Israel destroyed approximately 75 small-scale fishing vessels.”

The destruction of fishing livelihoods in the enclave had undermined the right to food for everyone in Gaza and pushed them “into hunger and starvation”, the Special Rapporteur insisted. 

“In fact, Israel has been strangling Gaza for 17 years through a blockade, which included denying and restricting small-scale fishers access to their territorial waters.”