Gaza’s Grim Reality: Children Perish Amidst Siege-Induced Famine

Gaza's Grim Reality: Children Perish Amidst Siege-Induced Famine | Credits: Reuters
Gaza's Grim Reality: Children Perish Amidst Siege-Induced Famine | Credits: Reuters

In war-torn Gaza, the demise of children isn’t solely attributable to Israeli airstrikes but also to the scourge of famine.

Authorities have long forewarned that Israel’s blockade and military campaign were driving the Palestinian enclave toward starvation.

The northern region of Gaza, ensnared by Israeli forces and subjected to prolonged food shortages, faces the most acute hunger. The Health Ministry reports at least 20 fatalities from malnutrition and thirst at Kamal Adwan and Shifa hospitals in the north. Most of the deceased are juveniles, with some as old as 15, and an elderly gentleman aged 72.

In the southern area, where aid access is comparatively better, vulnerable children are also succumbing to starvation. At Rafah’s Emirati Hospital, 16 premature infants have perished from malnutrition-related causes in the past five weeks, as disclosed by a senior physician to The Associated Press.

UNICEF’s Middle East chief, Adele Khodr, lamented earlier this week, “The dreaded child fatalities have become a reality.”

Israel’s relentless airstrikes and ground offensives have already exacted a heavy toll on children, who, along with women, constitute nearly three-quarters of the over 30,800 Palestinians killed, according to Gaza Health Ministry data.

Malnutrition’s lethality is gradual, primarily affecting children and the elderly. Contributing factors include mothers’ inability to breastfeed due to malnutrition and prevalent diarrheal diseases stemming from inadequate access to clean water and sanitation. Malnutrition compromises immune systems, rendering individuals susceptible to fatal illnesses.

Since its assault on Gaza in response to Hamas’ attack on southern Israel, Israel has severely restricted the entry of essential supplies, including food, water, and medicine. It permits only a minimal flow of aid convoys through southern crossings.

Israel attributes Gaza’s escalating hunger crisis to inefficiencies within UN agencies, alleging inadequate distribution of stockpiled supplies at Gaza’s crossings. Conversely, UNRWA cites Israeli restrictions and cumbersome inspections impeding the process.

Furthermore, internal distribution within Gaza is hampered by Israeli interventions, with aid convoys frequently turned away, and supplies pilfered en route.

Under mounting international pressure, Israel relented and announced plans to facilitate aid deliveries directly to northern Gaza and allow maritime shipments.

Conditions in the north, under Israeli control for extended periods, have deteriorated significantly, with vast swathes reduced to rubble. Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians persist amidst the devastation.

Essential commodities such as meat, dairy, vegetables, and fruits are scarce, as attested by numerous residents. The few available items fetch exorbitant prices, primarily comprising nuts, snacks, and spices. Desperate individuals resort to scavenging for sustenance, including consuming weeds like “khubaiza.”

Fatima Shaheen, a septuagenarian residing in northern Gaza, relies on boiled khubaiza as her staple, supplemented by pulverized rabbit feed.

“We are yearning for a morsel of bread,” laments Shaheen.

Qamar Ahmed recounts how his 18-month-old daughter, Mira, subsists mainly on boiled weeds, lacking appropriate nourishment for her age. The scarcity of food has compelled Ahmed’s father to sacrifice his meals for his grandson, Oleyan.

Mahmoud Shalaby, a resident of Jabaliya refugee camp, narrates witnessing a father in the market rationing a bag of potato chips between his two sons for breakfast and lunch. Shalaby himself has visibly lost weight, underscoring the dire straits faced by Gaza’s populace.

Kamal Adwan Hospital’s acting director, Dr. Husam Abu Safiya, reports a staggering influx of malnourished children, constituting three-quarters of their daily patients.

Recent airdrops of aid provide meager relief compared to conventional truck deliveries, which are now sporadic and hazardous. UNRWA’s attempts to deliver supplies to the north have been thwarted by Israeli authorities since January 23. The World Food Organization’s convoy to the north was similarly repelled by the military.

An attempted food delivery to Gaza City led to a fatal clash between Israeli troops and hungry civilians, resulting in numerous casualties.

Yazan al-Kafarna, a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy, succumbed to extreme malnutrition, exacerbated by his family’s struggle to procure suitable sustenance.

Abu Youssef Najjar Hospital’s children’s emergency department is inundated with malnourished infants, many of whom exhibit severe weight loss and require urgent medical intervention.

Aya al-Fayoume, a displaced mother, bemoans the unavailability of affordable essentials, resorting to canned goods for her malnourished infant.

The scarcity of fresh produce, coupled with a burgeoning population of displaced individuals, exacerbates the plight of Rafah’s residents.

Dr. Ahmed al-Shair attributes the recent surge in premature infant deaths to maternal malnutrition and extreme stress, exacerbating the already precarious situation.