Save the Children: ‘Urgent action needed to avert famine in Gaza’ – Vatican News – English

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The desperate humanitarian crisis in Gaza requires a massive and immediate response according to the humanitarian organization Save the Children, which is calling for an end to restrictions that are hampering the delivery of emergency aid. An estimated 12,500 children have died since the start of the conflict on 7 October 2023.

By Paola Simonetti and Thaddeus Jones

The humanitarian aid organization Save the Children has sounded the alarm on the desperate situation in Gaza affecting children especially. The daily bombardments and fighting are worsening a food shortage that is starving the population in the Gaza Strip. The most fragile victims are children who are beginning to die of malnutrition, the organization warns.

While emergency food and medicine are ready for delivery, the process of getting them to those who need them most has been hampered by frequent border closures, continual fighting and demonstrators blocking trucks with food supplies. Vehicles are often forced to wait at the border for long periods causing food to spoil, the organization reports, adding that the number of aid trucks entering Gaza has decreased by more than a third. 

Hunger and disease spreading

Hunger has also led to the spread of diseases, the organization warns, and the emergency health facilities still open are barely functioning. “What we are witnessing in Gaza is a slow mass killing of children because there is no more food and, to them, nothing is coming,” says Jason Lee, Country Director in the occupied Palestinian territory. “They are dying because the world has failed to protect them and now families are fleeing to Israel’s next military target to avoid starvation, in a death trap.”

Save the Children has issued a heartfelt plea for an immediate ceasefire to silence weapons for good, warning that the lives of 1.1 million children are hanging by a thread and that in five months of conflict, more than 12,500 have already been killed, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health.

Randa Ghazy is Save the Children’s Regional Media Manager for the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe. She gave the following interview to Vatican News:

Can you describe the humanitarian situation in Gaza right now?

After nearly five months of war, civilians in Gaza are being left without protection and are paying the heaviest price for the ongoing violence. Children are being killed at a devastating rate, whole families are being wiped out, and a growing number of people, including children, are being left with no surviving family members. Children are also being maimed and suffering physical injuries, with little option for medical care or treatment. Children have a special status in conflict, specific vulnerabilities, and distinct rights and obligations owed to them. They must be protected.

Nearly all children in Gaza are at imminent risk of famine and there are reports of children starting to die because of lack of food and malnutrition. Everyone in Gaza is now at risk of famine and facing crisis levels of food insecurity or worse. According to UNICEF, Gaza is witnessing the worst level of child malnutrition worldwide. Pregnant women are not receiving the nutrition and healthcare they need, making them more susceptible to disease and increasing risks of death during childbirth. The risk of famine is projected to increase so long as the Government of Israel continues to impede the entry of aid into Gaza and access to adequate food, water, sanitation, hygiene and comprehensive health services for children and families in urgent need. Any use of starvation as a method of warfare is strictly prohibited under international law and will have deadly consequences for children.

The spread of diseases is intensifying. Overcrowding in shelters, a near-total collapse of basic sanitation and health facilities, a lack of medicine and medical supplies, the rising number of unburied bodies, and a scarcity of clean water are creating the perfect storm for major disease outbreaks and preventable illnesses to start also taking the lives of children.

Cases of upper respiratory infections, diarrhoea, skin diseases, jaundice, and meningitis are on the rise. Without sufficient vaccinations for newborns, children are exposed to the risks of severe cold, malnutrition, and respiratory and skin diseases.

Children’s mental health in Gaza is being pushed beyond breaking point after nearly five months of siege and relentless bombardment. They have suffered unimaginable mental harm from the violence, and serious physical injuries, including the loss of body parts, and the loss of families, homes, and schools. We cannot let them lose hope that the world will act, and that humanity will prevail.

There is a total absence of education in Gaza due to ongoing hostilities. None of the 625,000 Palestinian children in Gaza, who are supposed to be attending school, can do so. Schools still standing cannot function. With no universities left standing, students are being deprived of a lifetime of educational opportunities as well as future choices. Prolonged periods without learning significantly jeopardise children’s futures, disrupt their sense of stability and normalcy, and contribute to psychosocial stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. This further adds to the grievous situation children are forced to face from this war, which in turn builds on an existing children’s mental health crisis. Suspending aid to UNRWA will further threaten children’s right to education now and in the future, given the central role UNRWA plays in children’s learning in Gaza.

What is Save the Children doing in Gaza in conjunction with other aid organizations to assist those in need?

As of 22 February, Save the Children has reached over 321,000 people, including over 165,000 children (80,000 girls, 85,000 boys) in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, working through local partners, with aid including but not limited to: food baskets, water bottles, hygiene and dignity kits, multipurpose cash assistance and psychosocial support for children.

Like most agencies, our work in Gaza has been severely disrupted. We have been able to source and deliver supplies on a small scale through partners from the limited availability still in Gaza, but all stocks and supplies are critically low. Supplies entering Gaza have been acting as a lifeline, but it has not been enough, so much more is needed to sustain life and humanitarian operations. The lack of fuel and electricity in particular is severely hampering any kind of response. Our staff have been heavily impacted by the latest developments, like all civilians in Gaza.

Save the Children stands ready to scale up our support to children who will need humanitarian assistance to live to see next week. However, the basic conditions to reach families need to be established by the international community.

Save the Children has been present in Gaza since 1953. Before the war, we reached nearly 50,000 people, of which 70% were children. To be able to continue to support children in Gaza, we need to be able to return to our offices, continue to work with partners and resume operations to deliver life-saving assistance. We also need to be able to safely bring assistance and humanitarian staff in and we need fuel to be able to deliver it. Like all civilians in Gaza, our staff are deeply affected. They are experienced first responders, but today they are also among those in need of assistance and support.

Conditions to provide humanitarian assistance to children in Gaza are not only not being met but are getting worse. There is simply no excuse for the shockingly inadequate levels of aid entering Gaza, especially considering the urgent need for essentials like food, water, and medicine, upon which millions rely each day. We are doing everything we can to reach children across Gaza at the necessary scale, but every avenue for aid delivery is either obstructed, complicated, or requires operating in life-threatening conditions, undermining our ability to meaningfully support children. Repeated communication blackouts are further restricting the possibility of any meaningful response.

What is your appeal to world leaders?

The situation in Gaza is a humanitarian catastrophe with unimaginable and unnecessary suffering. Unless action is taken by the international community, to uphold their responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions and prevent the most serious crimes of international concern, history will and should judge us all. A definitive ceasefire is the only way to save lives in Gaza. There is no alternative. Member States must do all in their power to stop the expansion of military operations into Rafah and prevent atrocity crimes from being committed, in line with their obligations under International Humanitarian Law.

The conditions to provide humanitarian assistance in Gaza are currently not being met and humanitarian aid is being used as a weapon of war. A meaningful humanitarian response is impossible with the current levels of aid entering Gaza and restricted access inside Gaza. Without the full re-opening of all crossings, without an adequate flow of aid which meets current humanitarian needs in Gaza, without the entry of humanitarian personnel to support the response in Gaza, and without necessary conditions that would allow for aid delivery, a meaningful response inside Gaza is impossible and aid will continue to be woefully inadequate, falling abysmally short of the assistance required. The international community must act now to ensure a definitive ceasefire alongside safe unfettered access for a massive scale-up in humanitarian aid supplies and the personnel needed to deliver it. Unfettered access means sufficient fuel to transport aid, keep vital medical, water and food services running, and ensure the communications capacity required to coordinate a response, as well as the opening of all access points. The denial of humanitarian assistance is a Grave Violation against children. 

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