Rising Malnutrition Threatens Children’s Lives in Gaza – UNICEF

Two displaced Palestinian children fetching water in Rafah. (Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle)

By Palestine Chronicle Staff  

UNICEF says the scarcity of food and safe water is compromising women’s and children’s nutrition and immunity, resulting in a surge of acute malnutrition.

A steep rise in malnutrition among children and pregnant and breastfeeding women in the Gaza Strip poses grave threats to their health, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said. 

Citing a comprehensive new analysis released by the Global Nutrition Cluster, UNICEF said that as the ongoing conflict in Gaza enters its 20th week, food and safe water have become incredibly scarce and diseases are rife. 

This is “compromising women and children’s nutrition and immunity and resulting in a surge of acute malnutrition,” UNICEF said in a statement on Monday.

The report – ‘Nutrition Vulnerability and Situation Analysis-Gaza’ – finds that the situation is particularly extreme in the Northern Gaza Strip, which has been almost completely cut off from aid for weeks.

“Nutrition screenings conducted at shelters and health centers in the north found that 15.6 percent – or 1 in 6 children under 2 years of age – are acutely malnourished,” the statement said.

Of these, almost 3 percent suffer from “severe wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition,” which puts young children at the highest risk of medical complications and death unless they receive urgent treatment. 

“As the data were collected in January, the situation is likely to be even graver today.”  

Similar screenings in the Southern Gaza Strip, in Rafah, where aid has been more available, “found 5 percent of children under 2 years are acutely malnourished.”

Preventable Child Deaths

This, UNICEF said, is clear evidence that access to humanitarian aid is needed and can help prevent the worst outcomes.

“It also reinforces agencies’ calls to protect Rafah from the threat of intensified military operations,” it added.

“The Gaza Strip is poised to witness an explosion in preventable child deaths which would compound the already unbearable level of child deaths in Gaza,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director for Humanitarian Action and Supply Operations, Ted Chaiban.

“We’ve been warning for weeks that the Gaza Strip is on the brink of a nutrition crisis,” Chaiban stressed. 

“If the conflict doesn’t end now, children’s nutrition will continue to plummet, leading to preventable deaths or health issues which will affect the children of Gaza for the rest of their lives and have potential intergenerational consequences.”

Restricted Food Portions

The statement added that there is a high risk that malnutrition will continue to rise across the Gaza Strip due to the alarming lack of food, water and health and nutrition services.

Currently, “90 percent of children under the age of 2 and 95 percent of pregnant and breastfeeding women face severe food poverty; 95 percent of households are limiting meals and portion sizes, with 64 percent of households eating only one meal a day; and over 95 percent of households said they had restricted the amount of food adults received in order to ensure small children had food to eat.”

WFP Assistant Executive Director for Programme Operations, Valerie Guarnieri, said the steep rise in malnutrition “that we are seeing in Gaza is dangerous and entirely preventable.”

She said children and women, in particular, need continuous access to healthy foods, clean water and health and nutrition services. 

“For that to happen, we need decisive improvements on security and humanitarian access, and additional entry points for aid to enter Gaza.”

The report finds at least 90 percent of children under five are affected by one or more infectious diseases. Seventy percent had diarrhea in the past two weeks, a 23-fold increase compared with the 2022 baseline. 

Hunger and Disease

“Hunger and disease are a deadly combination,” said Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.

”Hungry, weakened and deeply traumatized children are more likely to get sick, and children who are sick, especially with diarrhea, cannot absorb nutrients well. It’s dangerous, and tragic, and happening before our eyes.”

 UNICEF, WFP and WHO call for safe, unimpeded and sustained access to urgently deliver multi-sectoral humanitarian assistance throughout the Gaza Strip, the statement said.

“An immediate humanitarian ceasefire continues to provide the best chance to save lives and end suffering,” it stressed. 

Rising Death Toll

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, 29,092 Palestinians have been killed, and 69,028 wounded in Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza starting on October 7.

Moreover, at least 7,000 people are unaccounted for, presumed dead under the rubble of their homes throughout the Strip. 

Palestinian and international organizations say that the majority of those killed and wounded are women and children.

The Israeli aggression has also resulted in the forceful displacement of nearly two million people from all over the Gaza Strip, with the vast majority of the displaced forced into the densely crowded southern city of Rafah near the border with Egypt – in what has become Palestine’s largest mass exodus since the 1948 Nakba.

(Palestine Chronicle) 

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out