U.N. food agency pauses deliveries to northern Gaza

ood and safe water have become incredibly scarce and diseases are rife, compromising women and children’s nutrition and immunity and resulting in a surge of acute malnutrition.

 ROME – The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is pausing deliveries of life-saving food aid to northern Gaza until conditions are in place that allow for safe distributions.

 The decision to pause deliveries to the north of the Gaza Strip has not been taken lightly, as we know it means the situation there will deteriorate further and more people risk dying of hunger. WFP is deeply committed to urgently reaching desperate people across Gaza but the safety and security to deliver critical food aid - and for the people receiving it - must be ensured.

 Deliveries to the north resumed on Sunday after a three-week suspension following the strike on an UNRWA truck and due to the absence of a functioning humanitarian notification system. The plan was to send 10 trucks of food for seven straight days, to help stem the tide of hunger and desperation and to begin building trust in communities that there would be enough food for all. 

 On Sunday, as WFP started the route towards Gaza City, the convoy was surrounded by crowds of hungry people close to the Wadi Gaza checkpoint. First fending off multiple attempts by people trying to climb aboard our trucks, then facing gunfire once we entered Gaza City, our team was able to distribute a small quantity of the food along the way. On Monday, the second convoy’s journey north faced complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order. Several trucks were looted between Khan Younes and Deir al Balah and a truck driver was beaten. The remaining flour was spontaneously distributed off the trucks in Gaza city, amidst high tension and explosive anger.

 In December, the Integrated Phase Classification report compiled by 15 agencies including WFP warned of the risk of famine in northern Gaza by May unless conditions there improved decisively. At the end of January, after delivering food to the north, we reported on the rapid deterioration of conditions. In these past two days our teams witnessed unprecedented levels of desperation. 

 The latest reports confirm Gaza’s precipitous slide into hunger and disease. Food and safe water have become incredibly scarce and diseases are rife, compromising women and children’s nutrition and immunity and resulting in a surge of acute malnutrition. People are already dying from hunger-related causes. 

 A report issued Monday by UNICEF and WFP, based on recent data, finds that the situation is particularly extreme in the Northern Gaza Strip. Nutrition screenings conducted at shelters and health centres in the north found that 15.6 per cent - or 1 in 6 children under 2 years of age - are acutely malnourished.

 WFP will seek ways to resume deliveries in a responsible manner as soon as possible. A large-scale expansion of the flow of assistance to northern Gaza is urgently needed to avoid disaster. To achieve this, WFP needs significantly higher volumes of food coming into the Gaza strip from multiple routes, additionally, crossing points to the north of Gaza must open. A functioning humanitarian notification system and a stable communication network are needed. And security, for our staff and partners as well as for the people we serve, must be facilitated.

 Gaza is hanging by a thread and WFP must be enabled to reverse the path towards famine for thousands of desperately hungry people.