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Yazan al-Kafarneh died from starvation in besieged Gaza. (Photo: via social media)

By Robert Inlakesh

Beginning in December, international rights groups warned that the leading cause of death in the Gaza Strip could soon be starvation. 

Those fears have now become a reality, as an alarming number of children have died and are at the risk of death in northern Gaza, while all 2.3 million residents of the besieged coastal enclave face an acute food shortage.

Just over a week ago, experts at the United Nations warned of a catastrophic ‘looming famine’ in Gaza, as over 500,000 people currently face starvation. 

This warning follows concerns voiced as early as December by Save The Children and other rights groups, which issued statements expressing concern that the number of civilians dying from starvation could become the leading cause of death in Gaza. 

Despite direct calls for Israel to allow sufficient aid into Gaza, from its leading allies and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), northern Gaza faced over a month without food aid deliveries. 

When food aid was delivered in smaller than needed quantities, Israeli invading forces opened fire on civilians indiscriminately, the most infamous case being the ‘Flour Massacre’ in Gaza City where at least 116 Palestinians were killed. 

In the Kamal Adwan Hospital, located in northern Gaza, a shocking development has also occurred with the near-daily reports of deaths due to starvation among children and infants. 

Stages of Starvation

The stages of starvation include the body beginning to use ketones and around a week into the process of depriving the body of food, the brain will begin to use ketone bodies, along with glucose, for energy. 

This often begets a drop in body weight and depletion of water levels, along with glycogen stores. 

After this, the final stage of starvation will occur following the exhaustion of a person’s fat reserves, causing a switch to proteins as the primary energy source, from which storages are pulled from muscles, and this leads to cellular function degeneration.

When a person is in the process of starvation, they will likely experience: massive edema in the lower limbs and abdomen, a change in the color of their hair and flakiness of the skin. 

At this point, the individual affected will become extremely weak, dehydrated and much more likely to contract a disease, as the process of starvation wreaks havoc on the immune system. 

Kwashiorkor is a common disease that children are susceptible to, which can result in edema, or an enlarged and fatty liver, resulting in the distending of the belly and giving the appearance that the child is well fed.

Children are at Risk

Most people who experience starvation do not die directly from it, instead contracting a disease which their body simply has no means of fighting off and can be a slow, painful, experience.

Children are especially at risk and in other cases of famine, such as occurred due to US sanctions on Iraq and the blockade of Yemen, resulted in a much higher child starvation death toll than in adults. 

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, nearly a million Palestinians in Gaza are suffering from the effects of infectious diseases, which have taken hold over the population due to poor sanitary conditions and the ingestion of infected food and water supplies by the desperate. 

Malnutrition is rampant everywhere in the Gaza Strip, where there was already a water supply deemed 97% undrinkable and a lack of adequate food for much of the population prior to the outbreak of the war. 

Prior to October 7, some 500 aid trucks crossed into the Gaza Strip on a daily basis, yet, since the beginning of the current war there has not been a single day when anywhere near this load of aid has been transported into the besieged territory.

If there is no immediate intervention, the population of the Gaza Strip will rapidly fall into an uncontrollable famine, one which is already gripping infants and children in northern Gaza. 

On the cusp of the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan, there is a chance that no meals will be available to much of the population to break their daily fasts, inflicting a psychological wound on children who see the month as a time of happiness, celebration and family gatherings.

(The Palestine Chronicle)

– Robert Inlakesh is a journalist, writer, and documentary filmmaker. He focuses on the Middle East, specializing in Palestine. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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