UN humanitarians warns famine ‘almost inevitable’ in Gaza, calls to boost aid

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Anjali Sharma

GG News Bureau
UNITED NATIONS, 28th Feb.
 UN Security Council on Tuesday held an open debate on the food security in Gaza strip as over half a million Gazans are “one step away from famine” told UN humanitarians.

UN deputy head of UN humanitarian affairs coordination office Ramesh Rajasingham told the Council members that famine is “almost inevitable” unless aid can be scaled up.

Ramesh Rajasingham told the members of the UNSC that the situation in Gaza was grave with practically the entire population left to rely on “woefully inadequate humanitarian food assistance to survive.”

He said there was every chance the situation would simply get worse.

“Military operations, insecurity and extensive restrictions on the entry and delivery of essential goods have decimated food production and agriculture”, he added.

UN humanitarian affairs coordination office said in information formally submitted on 22 February to the Council known as a white note that 576,000 people were “facing catastrophic levels of deprivation and starvation” across Gaza.

The meeting is being held under the Council’s agenda item on protecting civilians in armed conflict.

Guyana and Switzerland called for the meeting with Algeria and Slovenia in response to the alarm raised by OCHA.

Mr. Rajasingham said “Food security experts warn of complete agricultural collapse in northern Gaza by May if conditions persist, with fields and productive assets damaged, destroyed, or inaccessible.”

“Many have had little choice but to abandon productive farmland due to evacuation orders and repeated displacement.”

He said that the hostilities have caused widespread shortages, heavy damage to water infrastructure and scarcity of products and even opportunities to fish alongside rising hunger and the looming risk of famine.

He called for solutions to scale up humanitarian aid deliveries.

“The stark reality is that a response at the level required will be impossible without immediate and concerted action by the parties, the Security Council, other Member States and the wider international community,” he said.

Rajasingham added the white note submitted to members sets out recommendations for this action.

He said at this stage very little will be possible while hostilities continue and while there is a risk that they will spread into the overcrowded areas in the south of Gaza.

Deputy of OCHA reiterated the call for a ceasefire.

“If nothing is done, we fear widespread famine in Gaza is almost inevitable and the conflict will have many more victims,” he added.

Guyana Ambassador to the UN Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, the president of the Council for the month of February opened the meeting.

The official system used by the UN and many other relief agencies to measure food insecurity warned that the entire 2.3 million population of Gaza would be facing acute levels of insecurity by this month the highest share ever

The Global Nutrition Cluster reported that 1 in 6 children under age two are now experiencing wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition.

According to news reports, intense fighting continues between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants. Amid repeated calls to end the hostilities, negotiations are continuing between the warring parties, overseen by Qatar, which are aimed at securing a deal for a ceasefire and sequenced release of more hostages still being held in Gaza.

US has circulated a revised draft resolution to Security Council members called for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza along with hostage releases as soon as possible and for Israel to refrain from any invasion of Rafah “under current circumstances”.

America vetoed the last resolution put forward by Algeria demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire on 20 February, argued it would destabilize substantial talks going on in Qatar.

UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process briefed the Council last week as medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières reported that a pattern of attacks by Israeli forces against hospitals and other civilian buildings, together with humanitarian personnel and convoys, was “either intentional or indicative of reckless incompetence”.

UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said on Tuesday in New York that there were multiple factors holding up the aid effort, primarily the lack of ceasefire, “a lack of respect for international law a breakdown of law and order in Gaza” and a simple lack of trucks to move vital supplies.

“There has been very little, if any, effective coordination with Israeli authorities on deconfliction”, and the ability to move convoys to the north, he added.

Deputy Director General of FAO, Maurizio Martina pointed out a grim landscape in Gaza at a time when 378,000 of its residents are experiencing the most severe phase of acute food insecurity.

“The key findings are troubling,” he warned, provided a sample of the severe impact of the war, from a decimated fishing sector, which provided livelihoods for over 100,000 Gazans, to the widespread death of livestock from airstrikes or the lack of water and fodder.

He said as of 15 February, 46.2 per cent of all cropland was assessed to be damaged.

Mr. Martina emphasized that agricultural infrastructure has been devastated, with the highest levels of destruction including sheep and dairy farms.

FAO stated that over one-quarter of wells had been destroyed with destruction most significant in North Gaza and Gaza City, and 339 hectares of greenhouses had been destroyed, most severely in Gaza City, North Gaza and Khan Younis. The harvest of olives and citrus fruits, which provides an important source of income, has been heavily impacted by the hostilities.

He said heavy restrictions on aid deliveries had rendered impossible meaningful humanitarian operations, he said.

Mr. Martina said that a cessation of hostilities and restoration of humanitarian space to deliver multisectoral assistance and restore services are “essential first steps in eliminating a risk of famine”.

“A critical priority is to restore safe and sustained humanitarian access throughout the Gaza Strip and to all those in need of lifesaving assistance,” he said.

He said in addition, basic services must be restored, including cross-border water pipelines, telecommunications, electricity distribution and health facilities.

“All parties must respect their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law and protect civilians,” Mr. Martina said.

He added that an immediate ceasefire and peace are a prerequisite for food security.

WFP Deputy Executive Director, Carl Skau said the Famine Review Committee has warned of a real prospect of famine by May, with 500,000 people at risk if the threat is allowed to materialize. Today, food aid is required by almost the entire population of 2.2 million people.

“Gaza is seeing the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world,” he said. One child in every six under the age of two is acutely malnourished.

WFP is ready to swiftly expand and scale up operations if there is a ceasefire agreement. Immediate action is required to enable a huge increase in the volume of food and other humanitarian supplies.

“We need a safe and functioning operating environment for humanitarian staff, the port of Ashdod and the Karni crossing to be open, a working humanitarian notification system, and a stable communications network,” he said.

If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza. Meanwhile, in the south of Gaza, WFP and partners are on the ground, delivering food as it comes to shelters, to make-shift camps, and to shops.

“But, we are unable to provide regular or sufficient food to people who badly need it, he said.

Carl Skau stressed that “The fact remains that without safe and greatly expanded access, aid workers cannot mount a relief operation at the scale required to reverse the severe humanitarian crisis now gripping Gaza.

“It is essential we avert a famine: and this requires much more than just food supplies; basic services must also be restored, including health services, electricity networks, and water and sanitation pipelines, he said.

He added that UNWRA is the only organization with the ability to oversee and manage this vital infrastructure in Gaza.

“But, the fact remains that without safe and greatly expanded access, aid workers cannot mount a relief operation at the scale required to reverse the severe humanitarian crisis now gripping Gaza,” concluded

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said reading the “white note” from UN humanitarians “makes your blood run cold.”

He added that the current situation includes massive shortages and diseases running rampant through Gaza.

There is no issue concerning the availability of aid, he added as Council members saw for themselves during a visit to the Rafah crossing some weeks ago.

He noted that due to bureaucratic obstacles, delays have ensued, and ongoing hostilities make food self-sufficiency impossible.

An immediate ceasefire is the only way to prevent famine in Gaza along with ensuring that Israel complies with international law, he said.

Ambassador emphasized that unfortunately, the US has blocked efforts to stop the violence in Gaza, and its proposed draft is yet another “license to kill.”

He called on Council members to reject the proposal. Indeed, it may be time for the Council to consider adopting sanctions.

Algeria envoy Amar Benjama said the people of Gaza face the harrowing dilemma of being forced to decide between the immediate threat of perishing on bombings or enduring an agonizing demise due to starvation.

He said that Israel is using starvation as a tool of war, and Council resolutions are proving to be ineffective on the ground.

“The ongoing attack on Gaza is not a war against Hamas; it is a collective punishment for the Palestinian civilian people. Our silence grants a license to kill and starve the Palestinian population. This Council must urgently call, demand for a ceasefire as our inaction equals complicity in this crime.”

US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said the US welcomed the discussion on the food crisis, said promoting food security was a “longstanding” priority in Washington.

They have urged Israel to keep border crossings open and meet humanitarian needs at scale and support the rapid and safe delivery of relief across all of Gaza.

“Simply put, Israel must do more”, he said.

He expressed profound concern for the wellbeing of more than one million Gazans stuck in the border city.

Mr. Wood said it was “unconscionable” that Hamas fighters were continuing to embed themselves among civilian buildings such as hospitals and schools, reiterating the call for all parties to uphold international humanitarian law.

He stressed that a major ground offensive should not proceed in Rafah “under the current circumstances”.

US envoy said his country had worked tirelessly to get more aid into Gaza since the start of the war, pressing to open Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing.

He added the US had called consistently for the protection of humanitarians operating throughout Gaza, and called on Israel to improve deconfliction coordination.

“We also recognize the fearless efforts of UN humanitarian workers who work under great personal danger to meet the humanitarian needs of those inside Gaza.”

He reiterated that it was essential to release the more than 130 hostages still being held inside the enclave, promising the US would continue to work towards a hostage deal along with a temporary ceasefire.

Chinese envoy to the UN Zhang Jun said Palestine refugee agency UNRWA is the “lifeline” for the people in Gaza.

He expressed support for the UN’s independent, impartial investigation.

Mr. Jun said Israel should cooperate in that regard and the international community, and particularly the major donors, must promptly resume funding for the agency.

He stressed that over a month, aid supplies into Gaza have been halved.

He called on Israel to open all land, sea and air access route to ensure the unimpeded delivery of aid.

Ambassador Jun said a ceasefire is needed, added that China will continue to work towards efforts to resolve the conflict in Gaza and achieve peace in the Middle East.

French Ambassador to the UN Nicholas de Rivière said “the lack of sufficient humanitarian access to a population in an absolute humanitarian emergency is unjustifiable.”

He said with Jordan, France carried out yesterday a new airdrop of humanitarian aid directly to Gaza as well as a new shipment of humanitarian cargo to support Egyptian hospitals.

He noted that France’s President highlighted the extreme urgency for concluding an agreement on a ceasefire which guarantees the protection of all civilians and the massive entry of emergency aid.

Nicholas de Rivière said that France reaffirms its firm opposition to a ground offensive in Rafah, which would lead to another unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.

“As we call for a ceasefire, France reiterates that all hostages must be released immediately and unconditionally, as required by our Council resolutions 2712 and 2720,” he said.

“The Council must also be able to clearly condemn the terrorist attacks and sexual violence used as weapons of war by Hamas and other terrorist groups on 7 October. It must also call for a decisive step in the construction of a two-State political solution,” he concluded.

British Ambassador Barbara Woodward said to address the desperate situation in Gaza, three things need to happen, beginning with a call for all parties to the conflict to stop fighting immediately.

“This is crucial to get aid in and hostages out,” she said.

She added that progress can then be made towards a sustainable and permanent ceasefire.

Secondlly the Council should urge Israel to allow more aid into Gaza and to facilitate distribution throughout the Strip.

She stressed that covers the need for more crossings, open for longer, including Kerem Shalom and Nitzana in addition to unencumbered access for aid coming from Jordan and the full opening of Ashdod Port.

Ms. Woodward added that aid airdrops cannot substitute for land-based delivery, and humanitarians need safe and unhindered access to the north through the Erez crossing now.

She said finally the UN and humanitarian partners need greater protection and access to the tools needed to accomplish their mission.

Ms. Woodward called for an immediate pause in fighting then progress towards a sustainable ceasefire.

UN agency warnings voiced in the Council show there must be action “now”.

“This is the only way to avert famine and alleviate suffering,” she concluded.

Israeli Deputy Ambassador Brett Jonathan Miller said his delegation is committed to improving humanitarian assistance in Gaza, easing the entry of aid at the Kerem Shalom and Rafah crossings with further border crossing openings also under discussion.

He said there is “no limit” to the amount of aid that can be sent to the population of Gaza, noted that most aid requests are approved.

“These are the facts; no one can claim otherwise,” he said.

He added that 20 bakeries in Gaza now produce more than two million pita breads a day.

Brett Jonathan Miller said that claims made to the contrary inside the Council Chamber are just attempts to propagate Hamas lies and to distract attention away from the inability to efficiently distribute aid.

He stressed that Israel is not holding up the trucks waiting at the borders, added that clearly, the delays in aid delivery are the UN’s fault.

Ambassador Miller said the problem of aid diversion in Gaza cannot be ignored. For its part, Israel will continue to demand the release of all hostages.

He called on the Security Council to do everything in its power to ensure their safety and wellbeing.

Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine Riyad Mansour told the Council members that in reality, a famine is underway in Gaza and getting worse every day that Israel carries on its “criminal aggression”.

“We must stop for a moment and consider what this truly means,” he said.

“What it means to forage for food in the rubble, sand and trash, to eat animal feed or food ravaged by rats.”

He said Israel was the architect of this human and humanitarian catastrophe, which it has purposely designed to collectively punish Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians.

Mansour added that this catastrophic famine and genocide has been allowed to happen at all and continue for this long “brings shame on all of us, not least this Security Council”.

Ambassador emphasized that Israel’s weaponization of food to punish the Palestinian people is not a secret. It was declared months ago, in October 2023 by the highest-ranking Israeli Government and military officials, some of whom publicly stated that such policies would hasten the decline of humanitarian conditions and provoke a mass exodus from Gaza or a so-called “voluntary migration” of this “demographic threat”.

He said this Council must uphold its responsibilities.

Mr. Mansour concluded that rectifying the current abhorrent situation requires three immediate steps: a ceasefire now to halt the Israeli aggression; the unimpeded, accelerated delivery of humanitarian aid at scale throughout all of Gaza; and accountability measures for all the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by Israel.

The US and Russia had heated exchanges at the Council.

After Russia’s statement, the Russian and US delegates exchanged heated comments, with Mr. Wood said that Russia was in no position to criticize any country while Moscow continues to bomb Ukraine.

Mr. Nebenzia strike back said the US should be ashamed of itself, trying to compare the situations in Gaza and Ukraine.

He noted that Washington had invaded Iraq and other countries, the Russian envoy  proposed that “we do not turn the Security Council into a duel between the United States and the Russian Federation,” he concluded..

 

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