Thursday, April 25

The UN says Gaza is close to famine. What does that mean?

The aid delivery that ended in bloodshed this week showed the extent of Gazans’ desperation, with dozens killed after thousands converged on a rare convoy of aid trucks. As the number of aid deliveries to Gaza has rapidly declined and Palestinians struggle to find food, humanitarians and United Nations officials are warning that famine is looming in the enclave.

For humanitarian groups and the United Nations, officially determining the existence of a famine is a technical process. This requires expert analysis, and only government authorities and senior UN officials can declare one.

So how do we define famine and what do experts say about the severity of hunger in Gaza? Here’s a closer look.

Food insecurity experts working on the Integrated food safety phase classificationor IPC, an initiative monitored by United Nations bodies and major relief agencies, identifies a famine in an area based on three conditions:

  • At least 20 percent of households face extreme food shortages.

  • At least 30 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition.

  • At least two adults or four children per 10,000 people die every day from hunger or diseases linked to malnutrition.

Since the IPC was developed in 2004, it has only been used to identify two famines: in Somalia in 2011 and in South Sudan in 2017. In Somalia, more than 100,000 people died before the famine occurred. is officially declared.

IPC analysts expressed serious concerns about food insecurity in Yemen and Ethiopia, linked to civil wars in those countries, but said governments did not have enough information to issue a formal assessment .

Famine classifications in Somalia and South Sudan have galvanized global action and prompted significant donations. Aid workers and hunger experts stress that the food crisis in Gaza is already severe, with or without famine classification, and that aid is needed quickly.

“For me, what’s important is to say that, technically, we haven’t met the conditions for a famine, and frankly, we don’t want to meet those conditions,” said Arif Husain, an economist in head of the World Food Organization. Program “So please help, and please help now.”

Palestinians, particularly in the north, struggle with hunger and regularly converge on the few humanitarian trucks that enter the territory. Humanitarian groups say people are so hungry they are spring to eat leaves, donkey food and food scraps.

The first IPC report on Gaza, released in December, found that the entire population of the enclave was experiencing crisis-level food insecurity and worse. Although the group said Gaza had not yet crossed the famine threshold, it warned that the risk of famine would increase if the war did not stop.

A second food security analysis is currently underway, the IPC group said.

The December IPC analysis relied on publicly available data from international and local humanitarian groups in Gaza that the group said met its methodological standards. But IPC analysts said they lacked recent data on the prevalence of acute malnutrition. Obtaining this data is very difficult in a war zone and represents a burden on already overwhelmed health workers, including the group.

The criteria were originally designed to combat weather-related famines, not crises like Gaza, Husain said. But the most serious food crises in recent history were caused by conflict rather than climate, he stressed.

And while IPC experts perform the analysis to qualify a famine, it is up to government authorities and the United Nations to officially declare one.

In some cases, countries have been reluctant to do so. In 2022, Somalia’s president expressed reluctance to declare a famine during a severe food crisis caused by a drought. And in 2021, Ethiopia blocked the declaration of famine in the Tigray region through intense lobbying, according to a senior UN official.

It is unclear which authority could declare a famine in Gaza. The IPC group said the process usually involves a country’s government and its top UN official. Determining who that authority would be in Gaza was beyond the organization’s remit, he said.

Stephanie Nolen reports contributed.