The world must act now to stop the people of Gaza being starved

Starved and under siege, Gaza is both a humanitarian catastrophe and a crisis for our humanity.

According to a recent food security report, without a massive scale up of humanitarian aid, Gaza risks being pushed into famine.

A permanent ceasefire is the single most important humanitarian response that Gaza needs now.

A refugee camp established by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza. Image: Ibrahim Alotla/ Alef Multimedia

An aerial view of white tens for displaced people in Gaza.

So yesterday we had no bread. It seems there’s no hope for bakeries to come back, because they were just bombed more than once, and they completely ran out of fuel when they tried to reopen…”

Oxfam staff member Najla Shawa, in a personal account from Gaza in October.

Is there starvation in Gaza?

  • Oxfam has warned that starvation is being used as a weapon of war against civilians in Gaza in an act of collective punishment.
  • Starvation as a method of warfare is illegal under International Humanitarian Law.
  • The world faces the prospect of watching men, women and children running out of food, dying from thirst, or suffering life-long consequences from malnutrition.

Access to basic needs like food water and the fuel is almost impossible, it’s very difficult…As for food, it’s noticeably decreasing in the markets as well. It’s very hard to get flour or essential food items.”

Oxfam staff member Fidaa speaking from Gaza.

Are people in Gaza getting food?

On 9 October, following the killing of over 1200 Israeli civilians and more than 200 Israelis taken hostage, Israeli Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, declared a “complete siege” of Gaza with “no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel.”

  • The Gaza Strip has now been under siege for months.
  • Bombs are destroying food sources and stores and preventing work to bring in supplies.
  • Food supply and storage facilities have been directly attacked.
  • Gaza’s only working wheat mill was reportedly destroyed on 15 November 2023 which means locally produced flour will no longer be available.
  • Airstrikes have destroyed or damaged bakeries and supermarkets and blocked food supplies getting in.
  • Fuel needed for cooking is so scarce that many people are using open fires to cook any food they can find.

Even under the pre-existing illegal blockade, access to food and essential goods had been actively cut through supply chain damage or political and trade restrictions.

How is food delivered to Gaza?

Gaza used to rely on about 500 truckloads a day for all its goods, including food and other aid, through a number of different access points.

Since 7 October, a tiny percentage of the amount of food that used to be delivered daily has been delivered. The entire food supply chain is severely disrupted.

The Kerem Shalom border crossing with Israel, which used to be the main entry point for goods, remains closed. According to media reports, the Israeli authorities have rejected requests to operate this crossing to increase the entry of humanitarian aid.

How is food produced in Gaza?

For a long time, Gaza had been heavily dependent on aid to supply items like wheat flour and other basic food items.

Now, any bakeries that weren’t destroyed or damaged by airstrikes are no longer active due to lack of fuel, water, and wheat flour. Wheat flour is also reportedly no longer available in the market.

Cattle, poultry, sheep and goats are facing starvation due to lack of fodder and crops are being abandoned due to the lack of fuel needed for pumping water from wells for irrigation. Livestock is being prematurely slaughtered resulting in significant losses for herders and lack of meat and dairy in markets. Even where it is still possible to get meat, for those who can, without fuel to cook it, it is useless.

The fisheries face damage to boats, particularly in the northern governorates, and major damage to ports in Rafah and Khan Younis.

Processing facilities are halted due to electricity and fuel shortages, along with security conditions.

Any electricity for the storage or production of food commercially or in people’s homes is mostly produced using existing solar panels in the region.

How do people buy food in Gaza?

In the past, supermarkets and local markets sold food produced on farms in the area, as well as fish caught from the Mediterranean Sea that runs along one side of the Gaza Strip. Supermarket stocks are now depleted.

Due to the lack of cooking facilities and fuel, people are resorting to consuming the few raw vegetables or unripe fruits that remain.

Access to basic needs like food water and the fuel is almost impossible, it’s very difficult. We’re getting water day by day with so many efforts, coordination... waiting, trying, planning just to get the water for the day. As for food, it’s noticeably decreasing in the markets as well. It’s very hard to get flour or essential food items.”

Oxfam staff member Fidaa, in a diary from Gaza.

How is food stored in Gaza?

Food like flour was once stored in grain mills. These production and storage hubs have been targeted by Israeli airstrikes and are no longer in use.

What food have people stored in Gaza?

When the escalation began, many people had some items of food stored at home like flour, pasta, rice, lentils and canned goods.

For those people who are sheltering in their own homes, many have very little of these stored items left after more than a month of being under siege.

1.9m people - 85% of the population have been forced to flee their homes, many repeatedly. So few people have anything left.

How are people in shelters getting food?

People who are among the nearly 1.4 million in school buildings and other public spaces that have been turned into makeshift shelters are completely reliant on any aid that is coming through.

What does Oxfam do in Gaza?

Oxfam has worked in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel, where Gaza is, since the 1950s, supporting communities to tackle the root causes of conflict, build resilience to sudden shocks and protect their rights.

This has included work with Women’s Rights Organisations, work on water, sanitation and hygiene, cash assistance and more.

Oxfam also sells trade partner Zaytoun’s Palestinian products in its shops and online, supporting local food growers and business.

But decades of work in the region with local partners and people has been crushed in a matter of weeks.

Oxfam partners — The Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), Juzoor, CFTA, and Palestinian Environmental Friends (PEF) — are responding in their communities, distributing vouchers and cash for food along with hygiene items such as soap, shampoo, menstrual products and toothpaste to people living in makeshift shelters in Rafah and Khan Younis, south of the Gaza strip.

The continuing bombardment has made a full-scale humanitarian response impossible.

What is needed in Gaza now?

A permanent ceasefire now, and end to the blockade that is preventing Gaza’s civilians from accessing food, fuel and water and a path to real and lasting peace for Palestinian and Israeli people.

  • Nothing can justify violence towards any civilians. Anyone held captive must be released.
  • End the blockade that is preventing civilians in Gaza from accessing food, fuel and water.
  • Call for a path to real and lasting peace for Palestinian and Israeli people.

Starvation is illegal under international law – and it has to stop. Starvation as a method of warfare breaches International Humanitarian Law. It contravenes specific provisions of the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Starvation”... is understood to encompass the “intentional deprivation not only of food or water, but also of other goods indispensable to the survival of a civilian population.”

- As defined by UN experts

International law is clear, as are Israel’s duties and obligations:

As the occupying power, the Israeli government has a duty to protect Gaza’s civilian population and make sure people have access to food, water and other essential supplies.

What must the international community do now?

The international community must uphold the principles of International Humanitarian Law and call for all parties to the conflict to facilitate unhindered access for humanitarian operations across the Gaza Strip.

Lifesaving aid can't happen with half measures such as humanitarian “pauses”, “corridors” or “safe zones”: we need a full and permanent ceasefire and we need it now.

What is needed in Gaza long term?

The previous blockade, already illegal under international law, severely limited the Palestinian people's access to basic necessities like food, water, and healthcare.

Any call for immediate aid must also push for an end to blockade and occupation, acknowledging the dignity and rights of the Palestinian people.

Collaborative efforts at regional and international levels can help secure long-term food security for everyone in Gaza.

Affordability of food, food production within the region, and the free flow of aid are essential steps towards this goal.

Boosting domestic food production isn't just about food security, it's also about stimulating Gaza's local economy and creating jobs, which are critical for long-term stability.

Harnessing technology such as solar power and desalination plants is crucial for sustainable solutions.

What you can do now

Bushra Khalidi is Policy Lead, Oxfam Country Office, Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Lawrence Robinson is Protection and Hunger Policy Adviser, Oxfam International.
Awssan Kamal is Co-lead, Rights Resilience Response, Oxfam GB.

A more in depth blog on this topic is published on Oxfam's Views and Voices blog.