15th Apr 2024

Borrell: 'Israel provoking famine', urges more aid access

  • Between October 2023 and February 2024, more than 12,300 children died in Gaza. Aid agencies are calling for more road access for supplies, not the 'diversion' of air and sea drops (Photo: UNRWA)
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"Israel is provoking famine," EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said in his opening speech at the European Humanitarian Forum in Brussels on Monday (18 March), as he stressed the urgency of Israel opening up more crossing points into the Gaza Strip.

Borrell's dire analysis was echoed by a new report of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). It found famine is imminent in northern Gaza, and the entire population of the strip is estimated to be acutely food insecure.

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"Never before have we seen such rapid deterioration into widespread starvation," said Sally Abi Khalil, Oxfam's Middle East and North Africa regional director.

"Northern Gaza is days away from famine, and the rest of Gaza faces a similar fate," she added, as hostilities have not ceased and humanitarian aid access to the population continues to face many obstacles.

Over the past 157 days of war, Israel has allowed some 15,400 trucks into Gaza. This is five times less than what is needed to meet the minimum needs of the population — and access has even been reduced since January, Oxfam says.

"It's just a matter of political will. Israel has to do it. It's not a question of logistics," argued Borrell in Brussels, calling on Israel to allow unimpeded safe humanitarian access.

To date, more than 31,000 people have been killed by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, where difficult humanitarian access is only exacerbating the situation of the already hungry population.

"We also have to be careful that all the attention on air and sea diverts attention from the essential use of roads," said UNICEF deputy executive director Ted Chaiban, as the international community works to find alternative ways to deliver aid.

"Road is the main strategy that needs to be pursued, and there's no reason why it's not being opened up for access. That's a choice that's being made," Chaiban pointed out.

Already last week, Borrell accused Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war and compared Israeli aggression against Palestinians to Russian aggression against Ukrainians.

Belgium's development minister Caroline Gennez made similar remarks during Monday's forum. "It's important to say that a child that is killed by a Russian mine in the Donbas is as important as a child being starved in Gaza," she said.

"If not, we lose our credibility and our adherence to the international humanitarian principles," she added, urging the EU-27 to speak with one voice.

5,500 people for one shower

Between October 2023 — the date of the Hamas attack on Israel — and February 2024, more than 12,300 children died in Gaza.

And one-in-three children in northern Gaza is now malnourished, up from 15.6 percent in January, showing how the problem is rapidly escalating.

"There's on average 5,500 people for one shower, 888 people for one toilet. So how can you live in these conditions?" asked Natalie Boucly, UNRWA's acting deputy commissioner-general, after her recent visit to several shelters in Gaza.

"Humanitarians can do so much, but the burden is on officials and governments to stop this," also said Marwan Jilani, director-general of the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

In late January, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague imposed several legal requirements on Israel, including measures to facilitate immediate humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, and to prevent harm to civilians.

But at the EU level, member states have not even been able to agree a call for a 'humanitarian pause', which is expected to come at a summit in Brussels on Thursday (21 March).

Moreover, 13 countries have still not decided whether to resume funding United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), after Israel accused in late January a dozen of the agency's staff of involvement in the 7 October Hamas attack — a decision now risking UNRWA's future operations.

"We really call for the resumption of funding," said Boucly. "It's not only Gaza, the impact of the freezes or pauses or suspensions is being felt and will be felt across the region [if countries do not resume funding]," referring to Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.

Israel using hunger as weapon of war, Borrell tells UN

Israel was using starvation to wage war in Gaza, Josep Borrell told the UN Security Council, in one of his strongest allegations since 7 October. "This isn't a natural disaster. It's not an earthquake or a flood — it's man-made."

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