A new CNN report has thrown more light on the sufferings of Palestinians as people are forced to eat grass and drink polluted water as famine looms in Gaza.
Hanadi Gamal Saed El Jamara, 38, states sleep is the only respite for her children from the persistent hunger gripping their stomachs.
In present times, the mother-of-seven finds herself pleading for sustenance on the muddy streets of Rafah, located in southern Gaza.
She strives to provide her children with a meal at least once daily, while also caring for her husband, who battles cancer and diabetes.
“They are feeble now, frequently suffering from diarrhea, their visages are pallid,” El Jamara, whose family was displaced from northern Gaza, disclosed to CNN on January 9. “My 17-year-old daughter complains of dizziness, my husband has lost his appetite.”
As Gaza teeters on the brink of a full-blown famine, displaced civilians and healthcare workers informed CNN they endure hunger so their children can consume whatever scant food is available. When Palestinians manage to find water, it is often undrinkable. Upon the arrival of relief trucks in the enclave, individuals scramble over each other to secure aid. Children, rendered homeless by Israel’s airstrikes, weep and quarrel over stale bread while dwelling on the streets. Some reportedly trek for hours in the cold in search of food, risking exposure to Israeli assaults.
Even prior to the conflict, two out of three individuals in Gaza depended on food assistance, as per Arif Husain, the principal economist at the World Food Programme (WFP), cited by CNN. Palestinians have endured 17 years of a partial blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt.
Israel’s airstrikes and blockade since October 7 have severely depleted essential supplies in Gaza, leaving the entire population of around 2.2 million susceptible to high levels of acute food insecurity or worse, as indicated by the Integrated Food Security and Nutrition Phase Classification (IPC), an entity assessing global food insecurity and malnutrition. Martin Griffiths, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, informed CNN that the “vast majority” of the 400,000 Gazans categorized by UN agencies as at risk of starvation “are indeed facing famine.” UN human rights experts cautioned that “Israel is dismantling Gaza’s food infrastructure and employing food as a tool against the Palestinian populace.”
Over a span of more than 100 days, Palestinians in Gaza have witnessed mass displacement, neighborhoods reduced to rubble, entire families obliterated by warfare, a surge in fatal diseases, and the medical infrastructure decimated by airstrikes. Now, starvation and dehydration pose significant threats to their existence.
“We are withering away slowly,” reflected El Jamara, the mother in Rafah. “I believe it might be preferable to perish from bombs; at least we would be martyrs. However, now we are perishing due to hunger and thirst.”
Israel’s assaults on Gaza since the October 7 Hamas incursions have resulted in the deaths of at least 26,637 individuals and injuries to 65,387 others, according to data from the Hamas-run Ministry of Health. The Israeli military initiated its campaign following unprecedented attacks by the militant group, which claimed more than 1,200 lives in Israel and contends it is targeting Hamas.
Residents of northern Gaza resort to eating grass to survive
Mohammed Hamouda, a physical therapist displaced to Rafah, recalls the day his colleague, Odeh Al-Haw, lost his life while attempting to procure water for his family.
Al-Haw was queuing at a water distribution point in Jabalya refugee camp, situated in northern Gaza, when he and numerous others fell victim to Israeli airstrikes, recounted Hamouda.
“Unfortunately, many relatives and friends are still enduring immense suffering in the northern Gaza Strip,” Hamouda, a father-of-three, recounted to CNN. “They resort to consuming grass and drinking contaminated water.”
Israel’s blockade and restrictions on humanitarian aid shipments have led to severe shortages, driving prices up and rendering food inaccessible to numerous individuals across Gaza. Shortages are particularly acute in the northern regions of the enclave, where Israel concentrated its military offensive during the initial phase of the conflict. Communication blackouts hinder efforts to report on instances of starvation and dehydration in the area.
“People have slaughtered a donkey to obtain its meat,” Hamouda relayed what friends in Jabalya told him earlier this month as shortages exacerbated.
In what could pose a significant setback to humanitarian endeavors, several Western nations have suspended funding to the primary UN agency in Gaza, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), in recent days over explosive allegations by Israel that several of its personnel were involved in the October 7 attacks. The UN dismissed several employees in the aftermath of the allegations.
Jordan’s foreign minister urged the nations halting funding to reconsider, emphasizing that UNRWA serves as a “lifeline” for over 2 million Palestinians in Gaza and should not be penalized collectively over allegations concerning a dozen of its 13,000 staff members.
Lack of clean water
Gihan El Baz cradles a toddler in her lap while consoling her children and grandchildren, who, she asserts, awaken each day “screaming” for sustenance.
“In the shelters, food is scarce, the sun beats down on us, and we haven’t even had lunch,” El Baz, residing with 10 relatives inside a weathered tent in Rafah, informed CNN. She tends to her husband, who she claims fractured his arm after falling while dizzy from exhaustion.
“There is no potable water, no clean bathrooms, the child cries for a biscuit, and we can’t find any to offer her.”
Displaced guardians in Rafah, where OCHA reported that more than 1.3 million residents of Gaza have been compelled to flee, assert that the strain of being unable to shield their children from airstrikes is compounded by their incapacity to provide sufficient food. Limited access to electricity renders perishable goods impossible to refrigerate. Living conditions are cramped and unhygienic.
“People are compelled to chop down trees for firewood to heat and cook. Smoke fills the air, and flies spread diseases,” disclosed Hazem Saeed Al-Naizi, the director of an orphanage in Gaza City who fled southward with the 40 individuals under his care—most of whom are children and infants living with disabilities.
Hamouda, the displaced healthcare worker, used to feed his children—a six-year-old, a four-year-old, and a two-year-old—a diet comprising fruits and vegetables, biscuits, fresh juices, meat, and seafood. This year, he laments, the family has barely managed one meal per day, subsisting on dry bread and canned meat or legumes.
“Children resort to violence against each other to secure food and water,” remarked Hamouda, who is employed at Abu Youssef Al-Najjar Hospital and volunteers at a nearby shelter. “I cannot contain my tears when discussing these matters because witnessing your children and others’ children go hungry is deeply distressing.”
All 350,000 children below the age of five in Gaza are especially susceptible to severe malnutrition, as reported by UNICEF last month.
Increased risk of death
The “magnitude and rapidity” of the potential famine in Gaza will condemn child survivors to a lifetime of health challenges, affirmed Rebecca Inglis, an intensive care physician in Britain who frequently visits Gaza to educate medical students.
The initial 1,000 days of a child’s existence are “critically important” for physical growth and cognitive development, Inglis explained to CNN. Maln
ourished children face an 11-fold increased risk of mortality compared to well-nourished children, she asserted. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals compel the body into an “emergency shutdown state,” resulting in the loss of capacity to generate energy, gain weight, or sustain kidney and liver functions, she added.
Malnourished children, particularly those afflicted by severe acute malnutrition, confront greater susceptibility to succumbing to illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia, as per the World Health Organization. Instances of diarrhea in children below the age of five have surged by about 2,000% since October 7, UNICEF disclosed.
Hamouda remarked that his own children exhibit symptoms of diarrhea, colds, and flu. “The children are dehydrated… their skin is parched.”
During periods of severe stress, pregnant women are more prone to miscarriages or premature births, healthcare workers previously informed CNN. Gaza is home to 50,000 expectant mothers, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Infants who manage to survive in utero are more likely to be born underweight and are therefore at heightened risk of mortality, Inglis stated. Starving and dehydrated mothers are incapable of producing sufficient breast milk for their infants.
Challenges in food distribution and aid blockage
Shadi Bleha, 20, struggles to provide for his family of six. Twice a week, they receive a meager allocation of two water bottles, three biscuits, and occasionally two cans of food from UNRWA, he stated.
“It is insufficient to meet my family’s needs in any way,” lamented the student, sheltering in a tent in Rafah, speaking to CNN.
Residents in southern Gaza also informed CNN that poorly regulated humanitarian distribution channels result in some civilians receiving no assistance at all, while others receive aid that they may sell for profit.
In some instances, vendors acquire aid from merchants and barter it at markets for inflated prices. Some individuals with vehicles travel to distant locations to obtain water, returning to displacement camps to sell water at elevated prices. Escalated airstrikes further drive up prices. According to Al-Naizi, three weeks ago, a 25-kilogram bag of flour cost $20 in Khan Younis, but after intensified attacks by the IDF on the southern city, the price surged to $34.
Reports also emerge of humanitarian parcels being tampered with, with items missing. Dates, olive oil, and cooking oil, found in aid packages, are allegedly sold on the black market for more than double their value.
On January 21, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced the inspection and transfer of 260 humanitarian trucks to Gaza, marking the highest number since the onset of the conflict.
However, aid agencies emphasize that this is insufficient. In January, the Israeli military only granted access for a quarter of the aid missions planned by humanitarian agencies to Gaza, as reported by OCHA on January 21. CNN reached out to the IDF for comment on OCHA’s statistics.
WFP has called for new entry routes for aid, increased daily passage of trucks through border checks, fewer impediments to the movement of humanitarian personnel, and guarantees for their safety. On January 5, the agency reported that six bakeries in Deir al-Balah and Rafah had resumed operations, but three remained inactive. “Bread is the most requested food item, especially as many families lack basic cooking facilities,” the agency noted.
Food shortage and economic strain in Gaza
Meanwhile, Israel’s military campaign has destroyed at least 22% of Gaza’s agricultural land, according to OCHA. Livestock are starving, and fresh produce is scarce.
Juliette Touma, director of communications for UNRWA, emphasized that the needs of displaced civilians in Gaza far exceed the amount of aid allowed into the territory by authorities. “We simply do not have enough, and we cannot keep pace with the overwhelming needs of people on the ground,” she told CNN. “The delivery of humanitarian assistance is therefore extremely challenging.”
Both UNRWA and WFP acknowledged that, given the scale of desperation and hunger in Gaza, reports of individuals reselling aid for higher prices are entirely plausible.
“It’s utter chaos, and people are in absolute desperation; people are profoundly hungry,” Touma added. “The clock is indeed ticking for famine.”
WFP informed CNN that food observers monitor aid distributions, ensuring adherence to verified beneficiary lists and that the food reaches its intended recipients.
“Sometimes families decide to sell WFP food in exchange for other household necessities they might require. However, it should be clear that any food distributed by WFP is not intended for sale,” the agency emphasized in a statement.
The conflict has also precipitated widespread job losses in Gaza, further eroding residents’ purchasing power as prices soar.
Hamouda now spends $250 per week on food and supplies for his family, compared to $50 to $70 before the conflict. CNN saw an invoice indicating that a procurement company had supplied monthly supplies for orphans under Al-Naizi’s care, totaling $6,814, with $2,160 designated solely for infant formula. Prior to the conflict, the same quantity of formula would have cost $1,680.
“We are living in a state akin to a jungle where warfare, murder, merchant greed, institutional injustice in aid distribution, and the absence of governance contribute to this deadly chaos,” Al-Naizi remarked.