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‘Unprecedented In Modern History’: U.S. Aid Experts Warn Gaza Likely Already Experiencing Famine

A group of U.S. government humanitarian experts on Tuesday privately warned fellow officials that the spread of hunger and malnutrition in Gaza amid the U.S.-backed Israeli offensive is “unprecedented in modern history,” famine is likely already occurring in parts of the Gaza Strip and the pace of hunger-releated deaths will “accelerate in the weeks ahead.”

The striking assessment was shared in a cable drafted by officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development and sent to the White House’s National Security Council, State Department offices and diplomatic posts abroad. It reflects outside aid groups’ reading of the desperate situation in Gaza and shows the Biden administration is aware of the risk that the death toll there will rise dramatically as it continues to support Israel’s operation and resist calls for a permanent end to the war.

“An immediate and substantial flow of food, health, nutrition and [sanitation] assistance; expanded humanitarian access; and safe unimpeded passage for humanitarian workers is paramount to addressing Famine conditions in Gaza,” the officials wrote. “While hostilities remain ongoing, however, humanitarians will face considerable challenges in providing life-saving aid and specialized services to those in need in Gaza.”

The revelation comes amid global uproar over Israel’s attack on aid workers associated with the well-respected World Central Kitchen nonprofit on Monday. The strike prompted several aid groups to end or wind down their operations in the beleaguered Palestinian region. The Tuesday cable noted that “ongoing hostilities… resulted in the deaths of 196 humanitarian workers between October 7, 2023, and March 25, 2024,” without attributing responsibility for the killings.

The dire internal analysis represents a shift from USAID’s last public comment on the matter, on March 18, which called famine “imminent.”

“Given that the drivers of malnutrition… did not significantly improve between February and March, even in the best-case scenario the threshold to support a Famine determination has likely already been crossed,” the cable says. Later on, it refers to “Northern Gaza, where famine conditions are most severe and widespread.”

In an earlier bracketed note, the document specifies: ”‘Famine’ with a capital ‘F’ is a scientific classification based on standards, evidence, and technical consensus among experts.”

Spokespeople for USAID did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Without criticizing U.S. ally Israel, the cable specifies ways in which its policies are worsening the humanitarian crisis. In one section, the document says that “conduct violations at checkpoints and unclear coordination have also resulted in the detainment of drivers and the targeting of aid trucks with gunfire and strikes.”

Elsewhere, it says health, sanitation and hygiene items “are among the most rejected for import into Gaza” at crossings where Israel inspects incoming cargo and denies access for materials it deems as potentially feasible to use for military purposes.

That finding could have legal implications: Lawmakers and human rights groups have in recent weeks argued that Israel’s obstruction of American humanitarian assistance makes it illegal for Washington to continue military support for the country.

Additionally, “a growing visa backlog continues to limit the ability of humanitarian organizations to surge staff and personnel qualified to address famine and provide essential nutrition treatment in Gaza,” the cable says. At a separate point, it notes that more than 1,000 containers of flour purchased by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East ― which could feed 1.5 million people for five months ― was still stuck at Israel’s Ashdod port, 25 miles from Gaza, as of a few weeks prior.

And the document is clear that President Joe Biden’s recently unveiled bids to help starving Gazans are insufficient. It notes that airdrops and the U.S. plan for a floating pier “will complement but not replace land routes” ― which Israel remains reluctant to open ― and “are insufficient to address Famine at the scale required.”

The USAID officials paint a bleak picture of the prospects for Palestinians trapped in Gaza amid a siege by Israel and fellow U.S. ally Egypt.

They cite outside analysts projecting that between mid-March and late May, dozens of children younger than 5 years old will die each day “due to starvation, malnutrition and disease,” and write in their concluding comment that “many of the coping strategies employed by people in Gaza will have long-term effects on the nutritional status and future livelihoods of those who survive the crisis.”

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