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Half the population of Gaza is facing catastrophic food insecurity, WFP says

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

More than half of Gaza's population is experiencing catastrophic food insecurity. That's according to a report out today. Famine is expected to start anytime. And despite growing international pressure on Israel to allow more assistance in, aid groups say it has not been nearly enough. NPR's Fatma Tanis reports from Jerusalem.

FATMA TANIS, BYLINE: Every day, Abdullatif Hamad wakes up and starts searching for food for his family in north Gaza.

ABDULLATIF HAMAD: (Speaking Arabic).

TANIS: "There is nothing. There's nothing for us to eat. Our children are dying. Our people are dying. What is there left to say?" he tells photojournalist Omar El Qattaa. Like hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza, Hamad and his family haven't seen fresh vegetables, eggs or protein in months. They boil local plants in whatever water they can find. They grind animal feed to make a sort of foul-tasting flatbread.

ALEX DE WAAL: Eating these kinds of things, which we call famine foods, is a sign of utter desperation.

TANIS: That's Alex de Waal, expert on famine and executive director of the World Peace Foundation.

DE WAAL: These are not foods that can really sustain life. They don't provide the essential nutrition. Some of them may be dangerous. They may be toxic. The kinds of water that people are drinking can make them sick.

TANIS: But that's what many people in Gaza have had to consume during months of war after the Hamas attack on October 7. On Friday, Unicef said the number of children under 2 with acute malnutrition had doubled in just one month. Gaza health officials say at least 23 children and four adults have died from malnutrition. The U.N. warns there will be an explosion, particularly in child deaths, if Gaza isn't flooded with aid immediately.

Today, a report by experts who monitor food security, known as the IPC, said at least 1.1 million people in Gaza are facing the worst possible level of starvation. That's the highest number ever recorded in the world. De Waal says what's happening in Gaza is shocking.

DE WAAL: I cannot think of a case in which the hunger and deprivation has unfolded so rapidly in such a concentrated way. And what that speaks to is the resolve and determination of the Israeli Defense Force in perpetrating starvation as a weapon of war.

TANIS: Aid officials have been ringing the alarm bells for weeks, urging Israel to allow more aid in. Israel says it's not putting any limitations on humanitarian aid, but only one Israeli crossing into Gaza is open at the moment. And Israeli inspections on aid trucks and the lack of security inside Gaza have made deliveries difficult. There have been recent efforts to get aid in by sea. The U.S. military is building a floating pier, and last week a ship from Cyprus delivered the first aid package by boat. But those efforts, while welcome, according to aid officials, will not be able to satisfy the immense need which can only be met through land routes by opening up more border crossings. Arif Husain, the chief economist for the World Food Programme, says there is a small window now to pull Gaza back from famine.

ARIF HUSAIN: We need to act immediately. We need to act at a very large scale. We can feed 2.2 million people in the whole of Gaza, but it will not happen unless there is full access, unless people are safe.

TANIS: And that can only happen, he says, if there's a cease fire.

Fatma Tanis, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.