As Israel blocks more UN aid, Gaza is on the brink of ‘most intense famine’ since WW2

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Gaza children's empty plates
Gaza children's empty plates . . . famine looming in spite of the UN Security Council's immediate ceasefire resolution. Image: Democracy Now! screenshot APR

DEMOCRACY NOW! Presented by Amy Goodman

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! — The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We turn to Gaza, where aid groups say famine is imminent after five months of US-backed attacks by Israel.

This is in spite of the historic UN Security Council resolution yesterday demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Fourteen countries voted in favour of the resolution — while the US, Israel’s main ally, abstained.

The head of the UN Palestinian aid agency, UNRWA, says Israel is now denying access to all UNRWA food convoys to northern Gaza, even though the region is on the brink of famine.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini wrote on X, quote, “This man-made starvation under our watch is a stain on our collective humanity.”

On Saturday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres travelled to the Rafah border crossing.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: A long line of blocked relief trucks on one side of the gates, the long shadow of starvation on the other. That is more than tragic. It is a moral outrage. …

It’s time to truly flood Gaza with lifesaving aid. The choice is clear: either surge or starvation.

Let’s choose the side of help, the side of hope and the right side of history.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Alex de Waal, the executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University and author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine. His new piece for The Guardian, “We are about to witness in Gaza the most intense famine since the Second World War.”

Alex, welcome back to Democracy Now! Describe what’s happening, at a time when Israel is now preventing the largest aid umbrella in Gaza, UNRWA, from delivering aid to northern Gaza, where famine is the most intense.


As Israel blocks more aid, protests mount for a free independent state. Video: Gaza famine

ALEX DE WAAL: Let’s make no mistake: We talk about imminent famine or being at the brink of famine. When a population is in this extreme cataclysmic food emergency, already children are dying in significant numbers of hunger and needless disease, the two interacting in a vicious spiral that is killing them, likely in thousands already. It’s very arbitrary to say we’re at the brink of famine. It is a particular measure of the utter extremity of threat to human survival.

And we have never actually — since the metrics for measuring acute food crisis were developed some 20 years ago, we have never seen a situation either in which an entire population, the entire population of Gaza, is in food crisis, food emergency or famine, or such simple large numbers of people descending into starvation simply hasn’t happened before in our lifetimes.

AMY GOODMAN: How can it be prevented?

ALEX DE WAAL: Well, it’s been very clear. Back in December, the Famine Review Committee of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) system — and that is the sort of the ultimate arbiter, the high court, if you like, of humanitarian assessments — made it absolutely clear — and I can quote — “The cessation of hostilities in conjunction with the sustained restoration of humanitarian access to the entire Gaza Strip remain the essential prerequisites for preventing famine.”

It said that in December. It reiterated it again last week. There is no way that this disaster can be prevented without a ceasefire and without a full spectrum of humanitarian relief and restoring essential services.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres
UN Secretary-General António Guterres . . . travelled to the Rafah border crossing and witnessed long columns of aid trucks not being allowed onto Gaza by Israel. Image: Democracy Now! screenshot APR

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what the IPC is? And also talk about the effects of famine for the rest of the lives of those who survive, of children.

ALEX DE WAAL: So, the IPC, which is short for the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification system, is the system that the international humanitarian agencies adopted some 20 years ago to try and come to a standardised metric. And it uses a five fold classification of food insecurity.

And it comes out in very clearly colour-coded maps, which are very easy to understand. So, green is phase one, which is normal. Yellow is phase two, which is stressed. Orangey brown is phase three, that is crisis.

Red is four, that is emergency.

And in the very first prototype, actually, of the IPC, this was called famine, but they reclassified it as emergency. And dark blood red is catastrophe or famine. And this measures the intensity.

There’s also the question of the magnitude, the sheer numbers involved, which in the case of Gaza means, essentially, the entire population of more than 2 million.

Now, starvation is not just something that is experienced and from which people can recover. We have long-standing evidence — and the best evidence, actually, is from Holland, where the Dutch population suffered what they called the Hunger Winter back in 1944 at the end of the Second World War.

And the Dutch have been able to track the lifelong effects of starvation of young children and children who were not yet born, in utero. And they find that those children, when they grow up, are shorter. They are stunted.

And they have lower cognitive capacities than their elder or younger siblings. And this actually even goes on to the next generation, so that when little girls who are exposed to this grow and become mothers, their own children also suffer those effects, albeit at a lesser scale. So, this will be a calamity that will be felt for generations.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you calling for, Alex de Waal? I mean, in a moment we’re going to talk about what’s happening in Sudan. It’s horrifying to go from one famine to another. But the idea that we’re talking about a completely man-made situation here.

ALEX DE WAAL: Indeed. It is not only man-made, and therefore, it is men who will stop it. And sadly, of course, even if [with a] ceasefire and humanitarian assistance, it will be too late to save the lives of hundreds, probably thousands, of children who are at the brink now and are living in these terrible, overcrowded situations without basic water, sanitation and services.

A crisis like this cannot be stopped overnight. And it is a crisis that is not just a humanitarian crisis. It is fundamentally a political crisis, a crisis of an abrogation of essentially agreed international humanitarian law, and indeed international criminal law.

There is overwhelming evidence that this is the war crime of starvation being perpetrated at scale.

AMY GOODMAN: Alex de Waal, we’re going to turn now from what’s happening in Gaza. We’ll link to your piece, “We are about to witness in Gaza the most intense famine since the Second World War.”

The original content of this programme is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States Licence.

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