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Famine is imminent in northern Gaza, experts examining food insecurity say

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It is not hard to see that people have run out of food in Gaza.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Videos have shown people scrambling to get food on the rare occasions that aid trucks appear. Israel has cut off the normal supply routes since the Hamas attack on southern Israel last October where fighters based in Gaza killed more than a thousand people and took hostages. Now, an outside group says famine may be sweeping through parts of the territory. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling on Israel to allow more aid into Gaza.

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ANTONIO GUTERRES: This is an entirely manmade disaster, and the report makes clear that it can be halted.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about the report he just referenced there. NPR international correspondent Aya Batrawy has been reading. Welcome back.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do the outside experts in this report say?

BATRAWY: Well, they say that famine is imminent in northern Gaza. Now, this is a report by a group of experts who are the world's leading authority on hunger. They're called the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or basically IPC. And it's a system of evidence-based analysis of food insecurity that was launched two decades ago to track famine in Somalia. Now, what they found in Gaza is that food is in short supply, and nearly everyone is skipping meals. And it noted that there's a spike in the number of young children who are acutely malnourished. So basically, one out of every three kids under 2 in northern Gaza are acutely malnourished and some have already died of hunger. They don't have access to formula, and their mothers can't produce enough breast milk 'cause they're not eating enough. And the report says that famine could also spread to central and southern Gaza in the coming months if conditions don't improve or if they worsen, with, for example, an Israeli assault on Rafah.

INSKEEP: OK. I want to figure out how this happened. I know that Israel cut off supplies immediately after Hamas attacked on October 7. More recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he would allow in the minimum amount of aid to Gaza. What's keeping that from being enough?

BATRAWY: Well, Israel's agency that oversees the aid that enters Gaza says Hamas, which attacked Israel on October 7 and killed 1,200 people, is to blame for the chaos. Here's a clip of what spokesperson Shimon Freedman said about Israel's efforts to get aid in.

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SHIMON FREEDMAN: Israel facilitates the entry of humanitarian aid via land, air and sea in accordance with international law. It is important to note that Israel places no limit on the amount of aid that can enter the Gaza Strip.

BATRAWY: But Steve, you know, aid groups say Israel is preventing many trucks from entering for what it says are security reasons. And most of Gaza's borders have been sealed since October 7. You know, the IPC report notes that before the war, when Gaza was growing some of its own food, about 150 food trucks were entering Gaza daily. That number dropped to less than half, or about 60 trucks a day from the start of the war until late last month. And this has created desperation in Gaza. You know, people have been shot trying to get aid in incidents with Israeli forces in the north.

INSKEEP: Yeah. We've watched those videos. What do you hear from people in Gaza now?

BATRAWY: Well, they're saying they don't want these haphazard and chaotic airdrops of food by parachutes, which the U.S. and other countries are doing to try to get more food in northern Gaza. And they tell NPR that they're feeding their children leaves an animal feed, and have gone up to two days without a single meal. Umm Mohammed al-Hamarna, a grandmother in Gaza City, says she's foraging for leafy herbs to make soup.

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UMM MOHAMMED AL-HAMARNA: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: She says she can't find baby formula for her grandson and that there isn't enough food being sold in the market for adults, either. And anyways, the prices are too high, she says. You know, it costs more than $400 right now for a large sack of flour in northern Gaza.

INSKEEP: Wow.

BATRAWY: But mostly, she and other people in the north say they just want this war to end. You know, hunger is ravaging Gaza. But the health ministry says more than 31,000 people have actually been killed by direct violence, mostly by Israeli airstrikes. And those continue daily.

INSKEEP: NPR's Aya Batrawy. Thanks so much.

BATRAWY: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.