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‘There is almost nothing now’: Gazans describe life on the brink of famine


This week, a group of global hunger experts warned that the Gaza Strip is on the brink of famine, but for many Gazans it feels like it has already arrived.

“I swear our stomachs are rotting,” said Eman Abu Jaljum, 23, whose family lives in northern Gaza and has been surviving on canned peas and beans.

Nearly half a million people in the region face starvation, the experts said in a report released on Tuesday, stopping short of declaring a famine because that determination depends on a number of conditions being met.

But in Gaza, which has been devastated by nearly nine months of war between Israel and Hamas, it seems to be a distinction without a difference.

“We are in the midst of a famine worse than ever before,” said Ms. Abu Jaljum.

Every day brings new food shortages. Fresh vegetables are scarce, meat even less so. In those food markets that are still functioning, shortages have caused prices to soar, including for staples like flour and rice.

Iyad Sapti, 30, a father of six in Gaza City, last bought a bag of flour nearly two months ago, he said, and had to wait in line for three hours. Now a bell pepper costs more than $2, he said.

“Who can afford it?” he asked.

Children receive food in Jabaliya, northern Gaza City, on Monday this month.Credit…Omar Khatta/AFP—Getty Images

Mr. Sapti said one of his daughters had asked to borrow an egg but couldn’t find it. “All I could tell her was, ‘I swear, I wish I could give you the egg,'” he said.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report released on Tuesday warned of a high risk of famine, but noted that the amount of food arriving in northern Gaza had increased in recent months, a change that coincided with Israel reopening border crossings to allow in more aid under strong international pressure.

The IPC’s determination of famine depends on Multiple factors come togetherThese include the percentage of households facing extreme food shortages, the percentage of children suffering from severe malnutrition, and the percentage of deaths due to hunger or malnutrition.

But many people may die before all the criteria are met.

Since the IPC criteria were established in 2004, they have been used to identify only two famines: the Somalia famine in 2011 and the South Sudan famine in 2017. In Somalia, more than 100,000 people died before famine was officially declared.

As of Sunday, Gaza health authorities reported 34 deaths from malnutrition, most of them children.

“You could get some simple things before,” Ms. Abu Jaljum said, “but now there is almost nothing.”

Jana Ayad, a malnourished Palestinian girl, at the International Medical Corps field hospital in Deir el-Balah, central Gaza City, last week.Credit…Mohammad Salem/Reuters

Although fighting in Gaza is currently concentrated in the south, food shortages are reported throughout the Gaza Strip.

For Nizar Hammad, 30, who lives in a tent with his family in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, finding food may not be as difficult as cooking it.

“The biggest pain is preparing the food itself because there is no cooking gas,” he said.

Firewood is hard to find and expensive. But Mr. Hamad said bread, flour, pasta, rice and lentils are readily available and relatively cheap where he is, and he can buy two bags of flour for about $2.60. Chicken, beef, fruit and vegetables are another matter.

“The problem now is lack of cash, jobs and income,” Mr Hamad said.

In the north, bread has become more available as some bakeries in Gaza City have reopened, said Mr. Sapti, whose family mostly eats bread spiced with a herb mix. “Having bakeries reopened has helped us a lot,” he said.

But Mr Sapti fears the bakery may soon run out of fuel.

“I really hope they can stay open,” he said.

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