Unprecedented 93% of population in Gaza facing crisis levels of hunger, warns WHO

Region already reporting soaring rates of infectious diseases, hunger is expected to worsen illnesses

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 26 December 2023
Photo: @UNRWA / X (formerly Twitter)

The Gaza Strip is experiencing “catastrophic levels of food insecurity,” with the risk of famine “increasing each day,” the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned. The region is already reporting soaring rates of infectious diseases and hunger is expected to worsen illness, especially among children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly. 

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) global partnership, which includes WHO, released new estimates on December 21, 2023. It found that an unprecedented 93 per cent of Gaza’s population is suffering from hunger, with insufficient food and high levels of malnutrition. 

At least one in every four households is experiencing “catastrophic” conditions, such as a severe lack of food and starvation, and has resorted to selling their possessions and other extreme measures in order to afford a simple meal. Starvation, destitution and death are evident, the WHO said in a press statement, calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire along with greater quantities of food and other aid. 

According to WHO staff on recent missions to northern Gaza, every single person they spoke with in Gaza is hungry. People approached them for food everywhere they went, including hospitals and emergency rooms. “We move around Gaza delivering medical supplies and people rush to our trucks hoping it’s food,” they said, calling it “an indicator of the desperation.”

Infectious diseases are on the rise in the Strip. Since mid-October, over 100,000 cases of diarrhoea have been reported. Half of these are among children under the age of five, with case numbers that are 25 times higher than before the conflict, the WHO said. 

Over 150,000 cases of upper respiratory infection have been reported, as well as numerous cases of meningitis, skin rashes, scabies, lice, and chickenpox. Hepatitis is also suspected because many people exhibit the tell-tale symptoms of jaundice, the global health agency said.  

While a healthy body can fight these diseases more easily, a wasted and weakened body will struggle. Hunger weakens the body's defences and invites disease, it warned. Malnutrition increases the risk of children dying from illnesses such as diarrhoea, pneumonia, and measles, especially in settings where they lack access to life-saving health services. 

Wasting has long-term consequences for children who survive because it stunts growth and impairs cognitive development. Breastfeeding mothers are also at high risk of malnutrition, according to WHO, and rising mental health issues may further impact breastfeeding rates.

Simultaneously, a lack of sanitation and hygiene, as well as a collapsing health system, add to the toxic mix, WHO further warned. 

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