The WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan said on Wednesday that the risk of famine was already high and on the rise.
“This is a population that is starving to death, this is a population that is being pushed to the brink,” Ryan said.
The WHO official added efforts to bring aid into Gaza are constantly disrupted and that the space for humanitarian intervention was being constrained in “every aspect”.
Major donor Western countries have announced the suspension of their aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). The UN announced cutting the “lifeline” 2 million people in Gaza depend on is a “collective punishment”.
“The civilians of Gaza are not parties to this conflict and they should be protected, as should be their health facilities.”
Ryan stated the people in Gaza “are right in the middle of a massive catastrophe”.
The WHO official further said access to proper nutrition has become a major issue in the Gaza Strip, with the calorie count and the quality of nutrition consumed by the people having dropped sharply. Populations are not supposed to survive indefinitely on food aid, he added.
“It’s supposed to be emergency food aid to tide people over.”
“And if you mix a lack of nutrition with overcrowding and exposure to cold through lack of shelter… you can create conditions for massive epidemics.”
“And we’re seeing them,” Ryan continued.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Ryan pointed to the dramatic reduction in the number of operational health facilities in Gaza.
On Wednesday, the head of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that cutting funds to the UN Palestinian refugee agency would entail “catastrophic consequences” for people in Gaza. “No other entity has the capacity to deliver the scale and breadth of assistance that 2.2 million people in Gaza urgently need”.
“We appeal for these announcements to be reconsidered,” Ghebreyesus said.
Ghebreyesus also added the WHO was facing continued “extreme challenges” in propping up Gaza’s health system.
“Over 100,000 Gazans are either dead, injured, or missing and presumed dead.”
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) also warned Wednesday that in Gaza, “access to clean water is a matter of life and death”.
“In Gaza, every day is a struggle to find bread and water. Every day is a struggle to survive,” it wrote on X.
The agency pointed out that “without safe water, many more people will die from deprivation and disease”.
Israel launched a deadly offensive on the Gaza Strip following an Oct. 7 attack by the Palestinian group Hamas, killing at least 26,900 Palestinians and injuring 66,000. Nearly 1,200 Israelis are believed to have been killed in the Hamas attack.
The Israeli offensive has left 85% of Gaza’s population internally displaced amid acute shortages of food, clean water and medicine, while 60% of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.