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Gaza: families forced to forage for food left by rats as 1.1 million children face starvation

Families in Gaza are forced to forage for scraps of food left by rats and are eating leaves out of desperation to survive.
23 February 2024

Families in Gaza are forced to forage for scraps of food left by rats and are eating leaves out of desperation to survive, with nearly five months of war and rapidly declining aid supplies leaving all 1.1 million children in Gaza facing starvation, Save the Children said. 

An aid worker for Save the Children who is currently in Rafah said her relatives in northern Gaza have been driven to desperate measures to survive. 

Nour* said:

“My husband told me people have resorted to eating bird and animal food and tree leaves out of desperation. He has been forced to scavenge for scraps of food; he recently found scraps in his sister’s house that had already been ruined by rats but washed them and ate them anyway because there is literally nothing else left to eat. He said he will not perish from bombs, but from scarcity of food.” 

All 1.1 million children in Gaza are now facing death by starvation and disease as aid delivery is impossible to carry out safely, Save the Children said. Continued fighting, Israeli bombardment and insecurity have impeded safe aid delivery. 

The risk of famine is projected to increase as long as the government of Israel continues to impede the entry of aid into Gaza and access to adequate food, water, sanitation, hygiene and comprehensive health and nutrition services for children and families in urgent need.  

The UN has said that between 1 January and 15 February, more than 50% of aid delivery and assessment missions to areas north of Wadi Gaza – where levels of starvation are highest – were denied by Israeli forces. On 5 February, the UN reported that Israeli forces fired on one of its convoys carrying food supplies in central Gaza. 

Any use of starvation as a method of warfare is strictly prohibited under international law and will have deadly consequences for children. 

The World Food Programme this week paused aid deliveries to northern Gaza due to security concerns, citing unprecedented levels of desperation” and the urgent need for more aid routes to be opened up. 

Meanwhile, a report from the Global Nutrition Cluster – a group of aid agencies working in Gaza, including Save the Children – published earlier this week found that during December to January, more than 90% of children under 2 and pregnant and breastfeeding women in both northern Gaza and Rafah faced severe food poverty. The Cluster could only gather a limited sample size of data due to access issues. 

The same report also found that one in six children in northern Gaza were acutely malnourished – a condition that can lead to severe wasting and that weakens the immune system, putting children more at risk of death from common childhood diseases as well as lifelong growth and developmental challenges.  

With limited aid access making any meaningful and necessary humanitarian response impossible, it is more than likely that the situation has dramatically deteriorated since this data was collected, Save the Children said.  

The destruction of civilian infrastructure during more than four months of war has decimated essential services like water, sanitation, food supplies, electricity, health – all of which affect children more quickly and severely than adults.  

Meanwhile, the suspension of funding from major donors to UNRWA will see lifesaving aid from the UN agency to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and across the region run out in just weeks. 

Jason Lee, Country Director for Save the Children in the occupied Palestinian territory, said:

“This is mass starvation of an entire people. How can anyone live like this? Behind the immense death toll from this war – more than 28,000 people, 70% of them women and children – starvation is causing children and families to die in slow motion. 

“The life-saving aid which families across Gaza rely on has either been drip-fed or denied by Israeli authorities – while essential services have been decimated by ongoing fighting. Conditions to provide humanitarian assistance to children in Gaza are not only not being met but are getting worse.  

“The starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law. The only way to put an end to this – to keep children and families alive – is an immediate, definitive ceasefire and the immediate increase of unfettered humanitarian aid. Without all these, a meaningful response inside Gaza is impossible, and children will continue to die.”  

Save the Children is calling for an immediate, definitive ceasefire to save and protect the lives of children in Gaza, and for all parties to the conflict to adhere to International Humanitarian Law, uphold the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling and refrain from actions which undermine the provisional measures indicated by the ICJ. 

Save the Children is calling for safe unfettered humanitarian aid access for a massive scale-up in humanitarian aid supplies and the personnel needed to deliver it, particularly in northern Gaza. Unfettered access means sufficient goods, including commercial, aid, humanitarian personnel, and fuel can safely reach children and families across Gaza , as well as the opening of all access points. 
Save the Children is also calling for all donor governments and the rest of the international community to resume and scale up funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as quickly as possible.    

Save the Children has been providing essential services and support to Palestinian children impacted by the ongoing conflict since 1953. Save the Children’s team in the occupied Palestinian territory has been working around the clock, prepositioning vital supplies to support people in need, and working to find ways to get assistance into Gaza.      


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