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Comment by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on the risk of famine in Gaza

19 March 2024

The Palestinian Al-Naji family eats an iftar meal, the breaking of fast, amidst the ruins of their family house, on the first day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on March 11, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (Photo by AFP)

The projected imminent famine in Gaza can and must be prevented.

The alarm bells sounded over the past months by the UN, including my Office, have not been heeded. This catastrophe is human-made and was entirely preventable.

The situation of hunger, starvation and famine is a result of Israel’s extensive restrictions on the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid and commercial goods, displacement of most of the population, as well as the destruction of crucial civilian infrastructure.

Dangerous coping strategies are already emerging, in the face of starvation. Law and order is breaking down as people become increasingly desperate, and children have reportedly been sent to make the dangerous journey from northern to southern Gaza, unaccompanied in the desperate hope that they will find food and support among the 1.8 million people already displaced there.

Israel’s now 16-year-old blockade of Gaza has already had a severe impact on human rights for the civilian population, leaving the local economy devastated and creating a dependence on aid. The extent of Israel’s continued restrictions on the entry of aid into Gaza, together with the manner in which it continues to conduct hostilities, may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war, which is a war crime.

Israel, as the occupying power, has the obligation to ensure the provision of food and medical care to the population commensurate with their needs and to facilitate the work of humanitarian organisations to deliver that assistance. Israel must ensure that the population can access this aid in a safe and dignified manner. International human rights law imposes a similar obligation.

The clock is ticking. Everyone, especially those with influence, must insist that Israel acts to facilitate the unimpeded entry and distribution of needed humanitarian assistance and commercial goods to end starvation and avert all risk of famine.

There needs to be full restoration of essential services, including the supply of food, water, electricity and fuel.

And there needs to be an immediate ceasefire, as well as the unconditional release of hostages still held in Gaza.

For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Geneva
Ravina Shamdasani - + 41 22 917 9169 / [email protected] 
Jeremy Laurence - +41 22 917 9383 / [email protected]

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