Gaza’s children face extreme heat and starvation under Israeli blockade

UN reports visible signs of wasting among Gaza’s children as aid deliveries falter and temperatures soar.

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Image Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu via Getty Images

Humanitarian officials at the United Nations warned Wednesday evening that thousands of children in Gaza face acute malnutrition as Israel continues to block aid deliveries, exacerbating suffering in the besieged enclave. Extreme summer heat compounds the crisis, with severe consequences for the already vulnerable population.

The Site Management Working Group for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released its latest report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The report notes that recent aid deliveries have done little to alleviate the condition of a population under attack by the U.S.-backed Israeli military and facing an illegal blockade for over eight months.

OCHA workers have observed “visible signs of wasting among children” in Gaza. Wasting, the most dangerous form of malnutrition, causes a child to be too thin for their height due to rapid weight loss. “No nutrition screenings have been conducted to assess the scale of malnutrition and treat identified cases due to limited capacity,” OCHA reported.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that more than 8,000 children have been diagnosed with and treated for acute malnutrition in Gaza, including 1,600 with severe wasting. Health officials have counted at least 32 deaths from malnutrition, including 28 children under the age of five. Since October, at least 37,431 Palestinians have been reported killed in the enclave. However, with hospitals, emergency services, and communications systems largely inoperable due to relentless attacks by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), official death tolls from starvation and other causes are likely significantly undercounted.

Displacement sites like Deir el-Balah, Khan Younis, and Al Mawasi house hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people in overcrowded makeshift shelters and tents. These sites offer no protection from the extreme heat, and medical facilities operate for only a few hours per day, suffering from severe shortages of medicines. “Unaffordable transportation and the lack of ambulance services hamper access to partially functioning hospitals, with reports of emergency deliveries taking place in tents with no medical support at late hours during the night,” the agency reported.

In a dispatch from Deir el-Balah, Al Jazeera correspondent Hani Mahmoud provided a grim picture of the conditions inside Al-Aqsa Hospital, the only remaining hospital with any functionality in central Gaza. “We spoke to medical staff who described the outbreak of diseases as ‘alien.’ The diseases are spreading among displaced people due to their poor living conditions, contaminated water, lack of sanitation and hygiene, and the rising heat,” Mahmoud reported. “The Israeli military destroyed the vast majority of Gaza’s sanitation facilities. It’s easy to walk along any of the roads here and see sewage. This is all aggravating the spread of diseases, particularly infectious diseases among women, children, and those with health complications.”

Pediatric surgeon Jamal Mari, on a medical aid mission from Australia, recounted the dire situation at Deir el-Balah’s destroyed Al-Ahli hospital. “Whatever disposables we have, we keep reusing and reusing them, which is not safe at all,” said Mari. “They’ve got five rooms which they say are operating theaters, but honestly they’re just little cubicles re-fashioned and done as theaters… I don’t understand how they’re managing.”

Deir el-Balah and the Nuseirat refugee camp were the sites of overnight Israeli airstrikes on Thursday. At least three people were killed, and more than a dozen were injured. The IDF increased its attacks on the southern city of Rafah, where more than 900,000 people have already fled since Israel launched a full-scale attack in May.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported that since October 7, when the IDF began its bombardment of Gaza in retaliation for a Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, 67% of water sanitation facilities and infrastructure have been destroyed or damaged. “As infectious diseases continue to spread and temperatures rise, the lack of hygiene and dehydration pose a severe threat to the health of people across Gaza,” UNRWA stated.

OCHA’s report on Wednesday highlighted that “access constraints continue to severely undermine the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance and services across Gaza, including the delivery of food and nutrition assistance, medical care, protection and shelter support, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services to hundreds of thousands of people.” Between June 1-18, Israeli authorities facilitated only 46% of humanitarian assistance missions to northern Gaza. More than half were either impeded, denied access, or canceled. Planned transfers of hygiene kits, water deliveries, and waste removals were among the missions denied access, and dozens of humanitarian missions were canceled or impeded in southern Gaza over the same period.

Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the World Food Program, described the sabotage of the agency’s aid efforts. “Staff spend five to eight hours waiting at checkpoints every day,” he said. “Missiles hit our premises, despite being deconflicted.”

Palestinian journalist Bisan Owda posted a video on social media on Wednesday saying that although some aid deliveries have been granted access by Israeli authorities in recent days, Palestinians are still “starving to death.” “Nothing changed,” Owda stated. “The Israeli army is still committing the same massacres using starvation in the north and the south, because simply, the air drops are not enough… They are trying to kill the people of Gaza by starvation.”

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