The UN emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, issued a grim warning about the humanitarian crisis created by the war in Gaza:
The UN’s top aid official has said the Israeli military campaign in southern Gaza has been just as devastating as in the north, creating “apocalyptic” conditions and ending any possibility of meaningful humanitarian operations.
The resumption of the military campaign and the continuation of the siege are a death sentence for civilians in Gaza. Even during the truce there was nowhere near enough aid reaching the people, and now it is impossible for any aid to reach them. Pre-war conditions in Gaza were already very bad, and in the last two months they have become nightmarish. Gaza was the world’s largest open-air prison before the war, and it is now being turned into the world’s largest charnel house. This is what comes from providing unconditional support to a policy of collective punishment.
The UN Human Rights Office in the Occupied Palestinian Territories offered a similarly bleak assessment of the situation:
Throughout the Gaza Strip, Israel’s bombardment of Palestinians has intensified in recent days, and provision of life-saving humanitarian assistance has all but ceased, raising the spectre of disease, hunger, and death for Gaza’s 2.2. million civilians.
The World Food Program raised the alarm that Gaza is “on the brink of famine. Haaretz recently spoke with Jeremy Konyndyk, the president of Refugees International, and he said that the famine warning should be heeded:
“That is not a word any humanitarian organization uses lightly – it is used very sparingly, because there’s a risk it could get overused and watered down. The WFP knows better than anyone, so when they warn about the risk of famine, I take that extraordinarily seriously,” he says.
As Konyndyk explains, Gaza is especially vulnerable to famine because of its dependence on imports. It is worth noting here that the few means that the people of Gaza have to grow and produce their own food are also being destroyed by the Israeli military. Human Rights Watch has reported that satellite imagery shows the razing of orchards, fields, and greenhouses. We saw something similar during the war on Yemen where the Saudi coalition targeted farms and fishing vessels to strike at local means of food production at the same time that they used the blockade to strangle the country.
Widespread hunger is making the population more vulnerable to the spread of disease, and the lack of clean water and sanitation mean that waterborne diseases will start moving quickly through the population. The Haaretz report went on to say, “The combination of food insecurity and vulnerability to waterborne diseases, Konyndyk says, is “a terrifying combination to me, as someone who’s been around humanitarian response for a long time.” If conditions in Gaza are allowed to continue deteriorating like this, we will be looking at massive loss of life from disease and starvation that could have been prevented.
Daniel Larison is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.