North Gaza aid mission reveals more infants may die from hunger — Global Issues

WHO and partners managed to access (Al) Shifa (hospital) in the north and deliver fuel, some lifesaving supplies for 150 patients and treatment of 50 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition and also bring it vaccines,” said Dr. Rik Peeperkorn, UN World Health Organization (WHO) Representative for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

For the first time since 7 October the WHO mission also reached Kamal Adwan hospital further north.

The facility’s paediatric unit was where 10 children reportedly died from hunger and dehydration in recent days and it was “overwhelmed with patients”, Dr. Peeperkorn said.

The situation in Al-Awda Hospital was “particularly appalling”, he continued, in an urgent appeal for sustained humanitarian access. “The deconfliction mechanism needs to continue working so aid can reach those in need,” the WHO medic insisted, referencing the protocol whereby combatants are pre-notified of aid locations.

According to Dr. Peeperkorn, most of the UN healthy agency’s missions to the north were denied in January; only three out of 16 were approved, four were “impeded” and nine were “denied”. “Zero (missions) were facilitated in February,” he told journalists in Geneva.

Although needs are most dire in northern Gaza, many more people all over the Strip rely on humanitarian assistance after nearly five months of conflict that have displaced around 1.5 million people to the southern governorate of Rafah.

Malnutrition – which leads to irreparable wasting in young children – was never the deadly threat in Gaza that it is now, as the enclave was largely self-sufficient in fish and other food production, Dr. Peeperkorn insisted.

“Before the recent months’ hostilities, wasting in the Gaza Strip was rare with just 0.8 per cent of children under five years of age acutely malnourished,” he explained. “The (current) rate of 15.6 percent of wasting among children under two in northern Gaza suggests a serious and rapid decline. Such a decline in a population’s nutritional status in three months is unprecedented globally.”

The WHO official noted with concern that 90 per cent of children under two years old and 95 per cent of pregnant and breastfeeding women “face severe food poverty – meaning they have consumed two or less food groups in the previous day – and the food they do have access to is of the lowest nutritional value”.

Humanitarian airdrops have been carried out in Gaza in response to the slow trickle of humanitarian aid reaching the enclave overland. To date, the UN has not participated in such missions but these have not been ruled out, said aid coordination office, OCHA, indicating on Tuesday that it would continue to “explore every avenue to ensure that aid reaches those in need”.

“Our clear focus is to have overland transport scaled up so that it is commensurate with the enormous needs that we hear about,” said OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke.

“When children are starting – as the doctors are telling our colleagues – to die from starvation that should be a warning like no other; if not now, when is the time to pull the stops, break the glass, flood Gaza with the aid that it needs.”

Before the latest escalation in Gaza, around 500 trucks a day entered Gaza, but the daily tally in recent months and days has barely risen above 133, Mr. Laerke explained.

“We continue to engage with the authorities and everyone involved who can help us get those openings so that we can get aid in at scale. But currently we do not have (permissions to enter).”

In a related development, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday heard that up to 80 per cent of housing in parts of northern Gaza has now been damaged or destroyed since Israeli bombardment began in response to Hamas-led terror attacks on 7 October in Israel.

“All that makes housing ‘adequate’ – access to services, jobs or culture – schools, religious places, universities, hospitals – have all been levelled,” said Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing. “This scale and intensity of destruction is far worse than in Aleppo, Mariupol or even Dresden and Rotterdam during World War Two.”

The independent rights expert, who is not a UN staff member, was delivering his mandated report to the Council whose 55th session is underway in Geneva.

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