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50,000 Children in Gaza Need to Be Treated for Acute Malnutrition, UNRWA Says

Thousands of children have been cut off from nutrition care due to Israel’s destruction of Gaza’s health care system.

Children wait for food being distributed at a camp for internally displaced people where they live due to the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip on June 11, 2024.

Israel’s near-total blockade of humanitarian aid has pushed tens of thousands of children in Gaza to the point of requiring medical treatment for starvation and malnutrition, the UN reported on Saturday.

According to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), there are currently over 50,000 children in Gaza who need to be treated for acute malnutrition — or nearly a tenth of Gaza’s population of children.

“With continued restrictions to humanitarian access, people in Gaza continue to face desperate levels of hunger,” the agency wrote on social media, calling for a ceasefire. “UNRWA teams work tirelessly to reach families with aid but the situation is catastrophic.”

Hunger and starvation are extremely widespread among children in Gaza. In a report this month, UNICEF found that 90 percent of children had experienced severe food poverty in Gaza between December and April. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported last week that over 8,000 children in Gaza under the age of five have been diagnosed with acute malnutrition, including 1,600 who are diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition.

The consequences of malnutrition and starvation can be extremely dire for children if left untreated, and have potential to stunt their development permanently. Worse, nutritionists in Gaza have reported that the widespread hunger is worsening disease among children, as their bodies are weakened and less able to fight, with groups reporting that an estimated 90 percent of children under five are affected by one or more infectious diseases.

However, children are currently largely unable to access care for malnutrition in Gaza due to Israel’s systematic destruction of the health care system in Gaza.

There are only two health centers left in Gaza that can care for children suffering from malnutrition, WHO says. Further, just recently, nearly 3,000 children in southern Gaza were cut off from being able to receive treatment for malnutrition due to Israel’s bloody siege of Rafah, according to UNICEF.

Meanwhile, humanitarian relief workers seeking to bring in aid have reported severe access blockades by Israeli authorities.

Last week, for instance, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder described how a truck of medicine and nutrition aid for 10,000 children that he rode along with was denied by Israeli authorities for arbitrary reasons, despite having had approvals. Before it was turned back, officials held the truck up at checkpoints for eight hours, and the convoy took 13 hours total just to travel 25 miles, Elder reported.

Just in the time the convoy was trying to enter to deliver aid, Elder said, he saw Israeli forces kill two Palestinian fishermen as they sought food for their families. Though one of the aid workers in the convoy was a paramedic with the WHO, Israeli officials denied them access to run to the beach to help the fishermen, he said.

“In the end, we gave them body bags,” Elder told Democracy Now!.

The hunger crisis is only going to worsen as Israel continues blocking and denying aid. Over 1 million Palestinians in Gaza, or about half the population, is expected to be experiencing famine-level hunger by July — the most dire category of hunger.

In a report last week, the UN found that Israel is using starvation as a weapon of war, a practice prohibited under international law. The UN further found in another report that Israel was the worst violator against children in the world last year, committing thousands upon thousands of violations as part of its campaign to kill and maim Palestinian children.

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