Today’s projection of imminent famine in Gaza is a profound failure of humanity, said the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Famine declarations are reserved for the most dire situations with only two declarations globally in the last 12 years. Since its creation in 2004, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) system has never declared famine in the Middle East. To date, there have been 27 reported deaths due to starvation and dehydration in Gaza, including 23 children. The IRC strongly reiterates its call for an immediate ceasefire, alongside a significant scale up of aid efforts to avert further catastrophe. The IRC has been working with partners to deliver food and is ready to scale up its nutrition, health, and water and sanitation support as soon as a ceasefire is in place.

Today’s IPC report states that the available evidence has led its experts to “signal the imminent onset of famine” in northern Gaza, projected to occur anytime between now and May 2024. While also highlighting the very real risk of famine spreading across the rest of Gaza  People are starving due to Israel’s continuous restrictions on aid, incessant bombardment that has damaged and destroyed critical infrastructure like markets and bakeries, and its ongoing blockade of food, medicine, water and fuel. Virtually all households are skipping meals every day. In the north, one in three children under the age of two is now acutely malnourished. While across Gaza, more than one million people, half of the entire population, are experiencing catastrophic food insecurity and are at increased risk of acute malnutrition and death.

Compared to the previous IPC analysis issued in December 2023, acute food insecurity in Gaza has both deepened and widened in the past few months. With 79% more people sliding into catastrophic levels of hunger between mid-February and mid-March and projected to rise to 92% more people between mid-March and July. Despite recent talk by Israel of scaling up aid in Gaza, the imminent famine projected today shows that actions speak louder than words. International humanitarian law prohibits the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.While the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court provides that intentionally starving civilians by “depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival, including willfully impeding relief supplies” is a war crime. 

If escalation continues, a report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health projects almost half of all children (46%) in Gaza aged 6 months to 5 years, approximately 140,000 young children – could suffer from acute malnutrition by August. This would be a 15-fold increase from the pre-war prevalence of acute malnutrition, which stood at just 3% before October 7. If this projection becomes reality, Gaza would face among the highest prevalence of acute malnutrition in the world. 

Denisa Delić, International Rescue Committee UK Advocacy Director, said,

“Today’s devastating report that famine is imminent in northern Gaza demonstrates the desperate need for stronger UK action. 

Securing the safe passage of aid through land crossings must take priority above all else. It is indisputably clear that other suggested methods of aid delivery - from maritime corridors to air drops - are completely inadequate to address the catastrophic levels of hunger and humanitarian need. 

The UK government must use all the diplomatic levers within its disposal to demand Israel lifts its siege of Gaza, reopens land crossings, and allows the safe and unimpeded movement of humanitarian workers and aid through an immediate and sustained ceasefire."

Sam Duerden, IRC Team Lead for occupied Palestinian territory, said,

“Seeing the numbers of people facing imminent famine in Gaza is shocking and unprecedented. Children are starving due to an entirely man-made and preventable crisis. There is no excuse. A ceasefire must be implemented immediately, and Israel must end its arbitrary denial of food, water, fuel and essential medicines. All parties must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief from all possible land routes and entry points and within Gaza. 

“The consequences of Israel's bombing, blockade and denial of aid have been catastrophic. Efforts to transport aid from the southern part of Gaza to the northern areas have been obstructed, with Israeli authorities only allowing 25% of the planned aid missions in February. Less aid entered Gaza in February than in January. With children already dying due to starvation and dehydration in northern Gaza, all those with control or influence over the situation must act now. 

“Airdrops and sea routes are not a solution. They cannot deliver the volume or consistency of aid required or meet the specialized needs, especially of malnourished children. They are more expensive, less effective, and more dangerous than land routes, which are readily available. Aid workers need safety and freedom of movement within Gaza to reach and care for malnourished children and all civilians in need. Only a ceasefire and unhindered aid access will give any kind of meaningful respite to the suffering.”

Notes to Editors

Acute malnutrition is a life-threatening condition that occurs when children are not taking in enough food to grow, develop or maintain a healthy immune system and illness results in sudden weight loss. A child who is severely malnourished is twelve times more likely to die from common diseases like diarrhea and cholera. Such loss of nutrition can result in dire health conditions, including severe weight loss, infertility, disability and – eventually – death. Children are particularly at risk and often die at double the rate of adults. Those who survive risk a lifelong struggle with poor health.

These children’s lives can be saved with a simple solution. Utilizing a fortified peanut paste for treatment, more than 90% of affected children can recover within weeks. But without an immediate ceasefire and unfettered aid access, more children will starve. 

The IRC is providing emergency and life-saving medical care, including direct medical care at hospitals, and the distribution of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals and supporting partners to deliver food and provide critical services in emergency shelters including health services, psychosocial support, cash assistance, and mental health services for children and caregivers to cope with the effects of trauma and displacement.