Statement by UNICEF on the risk of famine in the Gaza Strip

Latest IPC report warns that acute food insecurity puts all children under five in the Gaza Strip—335,000—at high risk of severe malnutrition and preventable death

22 December 2023
State of Palestine. A boy sits on the floor at a shelter for displaced persons.
UNICEF/UNI463117/El Baba
A boy sits on a mattress in the courtyard where displaced persons have taken shelter in the State of Palestine.

NEW YORK, 22 December 2023 – “Yesterday, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) warned the world of the very high risk of famine in the Gaza Strip, increasing every day if the situation persists. Specifically, the IPC report said at least 1 in 4 households in the Gaza Strip, or more than half a million people, are facing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity, the highest level of warning.

“These entirely manmade, foreseeable, and preventable catastrophic conditions mean that children and families in the Gaza Strip are now facing violence from the air, and deprivation from the ground—with potentially the worst yet to come. 

“The report also said that almost 1.2 million people are experiencing emergency levels of acute food insecurity and acknowledged that famine thresholds for acute food insecurity have already been exceeded. In short, this means for many families in Gaza, the threat of dying from hunger is already real.

“These findings imply that all children under five in the Gaza Strip—335,000—are at high risk of severe malnutrition and preventable death as the risk of famine conditions continues to increase. UNICEF estimates that in the coming weeks, at least 10,000 children under five years will suffer the most life-threatening form of malnutrition, known as severe wasting, and will need therapeutic foods.

“This unacceptable risk comes at a time when the Gaza Strip’s food and health systems are facing complete collapse. More than 80 per cent of young children are experiencing severe food poverty, and more than two-thirds of hospitals are no longer functioning because of the lack of fuel, water, and vital medical supplies or because they sustained catastrophic damage in attacks.

“We are also particularly concerned about the nutrition of over 155,000 pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, as well as for over 135,000 children under two, given their specific nutrition needs, which are compounded by stress and trauma. 

“Importantly, however, the IPC has emphasized that these conditions do not have to persist. Yesterday's warning of famine in the coming weeks and months can still be averted. But we must act now.

“We need an immediate and long-lasting humanitarian ceasefire so that humanitarian actors can support the strengthening and restoring of essential services across the Gaza Strip, allowing vulnerable children to meet their basic nutrition and health needs. These include the provision of infant milk, food and nutrient supplements, and ready-to-use therapeutic foods for the early prevention, detection and treatment of severe malnutrition, as well as water, medical supplies and fuel, and resumption of commercial traffic.

“We need the restoration of critical infrastructure, including hospitals, so young children, pregnant women and injured patients can safely access life-saving treatment and care.

“Finally, we need all parties to immediately and fully respect international humanitarian law, including the principles of distinction and proportionality, and to take all necessary precautions to protect the civilian population, to release all hostages, and to meet their obligations to ensure children are protected and assisted.”

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Media contacts

Ammar Ammar
Regional Chief of Advocacy and Communication
UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office
Tel: 00962791837388
Kurtis Cooper
Communication Specialist
UNICEF New York
Tel: 0019174761435

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