Not enough evidence to declare a famine in Gaza, says official monitor

Famine Review Committee confirmed ‘extreme suffering’ but could not confirm the classification


Palestinians rush trucks as they transport international humanitarian aid from the US-built Trident Pier near Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

The humanitarian situation in Gaza might not pass the threshold of famine, according to a new independent examination of evidence from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) released on June 4.

A number of aid agencies and media outlets have reported a famine in Gaza, but fresh evidence has come to light that suggests the situation in the war-torn strip cannot be legally defined as a famine. 

Contrary to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) IPC-Compatible Analysis for the Northern Governorates of the Gaza Strip, which concluded that there was a famine, the Famine Review Committee (FRC) has found inadequate evidence to prove a famine has occurred or is occurring in Gaza.

FRC found that the evidence presented in a March IPC report was not consistent with the "famine" classification.

The previous IPC reports excluded all commercial and privately contracted food deliveries, as well as the contribution of World Food Programme (WFP) deliveries to bakeries in northern Gaza, which the new analysis suggests undermines the famine classification.

When private, commercial and WFP deliveries are considered, the FRC analysis proves the daily kilocalories requirements for Gaza have been surpassed in April, even if the most conservative estimates are used. The report also found that the food supply in Gaza is increasing each month.

The report concludes that “the FRC is unable to make a determination as to whether or not famine thresholds have been passed" during April or May, due to the “uncertainty and lack of convergence of the supporting evidence.” Projecting to the end of July, it states: “the FRC is unable to endorse the IPC Phase 5 (Famine) classification for the projection period.”

These findings should not undermine the fact that “extreme human suffering is without a doubt currently ongoing in the Gaza Strip,” the report goes on.

The FRC states that there is an “immediate humanitarian imperative to address this civilian suffering by enabling complete, safe, unhindered, and sustained humanitarian access into and throughout the Gaza Strip, including through ceasing hostilities.

“All actors should not wait until a famine classification for the current period is made to act accordingly.”

Much of the report’s findings stem from the fact that the committee could not examine evidence due to “the lack of essential up to date data on human well-being in Northern Gaza, and Gaza at large.”

The FEWS NET report relied on “multiple layers of assumptions and inference, beginning with food availability and access in northern Gaza and continuing through nutritional status and mortality,” according to FRC.

While the use of assumptions and inference is standard practice in IPC reporting, the FRC notes that there are limitations to this evidence, which “leads to a very high level of uncertainty regarding the current food security and nutritional status of the population [in northern Gaza].”

This means that while there might have been a famine in Gaza, it cannot be classified as such because there is not enough evidence.

The report also notes that FEWS NET reported fewer trucks entering Gaza than other sources.

“The FRC notes that the overall number of trucks entering the Gaza Strip and available food that FEWS NET used for its analysis is significantly less than reported by other sources,” including the figures reported by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the WFP.

The FEWS NET report excluded the contribution of commercial and/or privately contracted food deliveries in Gaza, which FRC say could correspond to the exclusion of around 25-76 per cent of the daily kilocalorie requirement coverage in March and 34-82 per cent in April.

FEWS NET also excluded World Food Programme deliveries to bakeries in northern Gaza, which corresponds to a further 4-15 per cent of daily kilocalorie requirements. It also excluded additional WFP truck deliveries and airdropped and maritime deliveries.

The new report notes the increasing number of food trucks entering northern Gaza from March: “The FRC agrees with FEWS NET that food availability was likely increasing month-on-month in March and April 2024 relative to the extreme scarcity seen from November 2023 through February 2024.”

It is unclear if this increase in food supply, which was also aided by airdrops, has reversed the trend of hunger in Gaza.

Despite the increased food truck deliveries, the report notes that some of the recommendations to reduce the likelihood of famine have not been fully implemented, including “safe, sustained, and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance and commercial deliveries as well as field surveys of human wellbeing, enabled by ceasing all hostilities.”

The report states that food prices in Gaza have increased, but notes "large data gaps on prices and on the ability of populations to access financial assets or other services.” Access to financial assets and services “seemed to be improving during April.”

The report points out major issues with mortality and malnutrition indicators used to justify IPC Phase 4/5 classification.

In its analysis of nutrition, the FCR found that “a reduction in acute malnutrition might also be considered possible.”

It finds that deaths due to malnutrition and/or dehydration reported by the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in March likely did not continue at the same rate into April. However, there is still uncertainty about the death toll in northern Gaza, particularly for non-trauma mortality, due to “people’s reluctance to attend health facilities” because of repeated attacks.

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