CARE warns: Babies and toddlers in North Gaza dying slow and painful death from starvation

Women and children in Gaza

15 March 2024


Over five months after the October 7th attacks and the devastating conflict in Gaza, CARE and partner organization Juzoor warn that young children in North Gaza are increasingly at risk of dying of hunger and malnutrition. A recent analysis of data of 1,329 children aged 2 and younger in North Gaza shows that children categorized as having moderate or severe malnutrition nearly doubled in the month of February (from 16% to 29%) compared to January.

Hiba Tibi, Country Director for CARE in West Bank and Gaza said:

“No one is suffering more in this war than those who have yet to utter their first word. This war is causing an entire generation of children to lose their childhood and future. Imagine watching your baby perish in front of your eyes, simply because you cannot get her the food she needs? Imagine hearing your children’s cries for bread, but there is nothing you can give them? The situation is simply unbearable, unjustifiable and needs to stop immediately.”

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At least 27 individuals (23 of those being children) have already died from severe acute malnutrition and dehydration in Northern Gaza, with the youngest child only a few days old. According to the UN, at least 13,000 children have been killed since the start of the war. This is higher than the number of children killed in four years of wars around the world combined.

Dr. Umaiyeh Khammash, Director of Juzoor, said:

"We see thousands of women and children in our health centres in the North of Gaza every day. Over the past weeks, we could literally see the children getting thinner and thinner. Many of them are so dehydrated and malnourished, they barely speak and have to be carried by their parents.

“Mothers and fathers are absolutely devastated, trying whatever they can to keep their young ones alive. Infectious diseases, lack of food and clean water, and the ongoing bombardment are a lethal cocktail for children's health. Our staff on the ground are doing a heroic job, but if things don't change quickly, we will see a catastrophic level of death from starvation."

Juzoor’s analysis also reveals that children under one year old are being hit the hardest and almost every second baby (45%) is malnourished.

The data, collected in Juzoor’s health centres as part of an immunization campaign for children under the age of two, is in line with other analyses of the deteriorating nutrition situation, including from the Global Nutrition Cluster. “We hear from doctors who tell us they are losing children every day. The few hospitals who still have incubators for babies will only be able to run them for a few hours every day. Mothers have to watch their child die simply because there is no fuel to run the needed machines,” says Tibi. With no fully functioning hospitals left in the North, many malnourished children are unable to receive sufficient, if any, medical support.

“Starvation is cruel. It is a slow and painful death. Hearing mothers tell us how their child’s life is vanishing before their eyes, are the most heartbreaking stories we will ever hear. We also know that those who survive starvation will suffer cognitively and physically for the years to come. Children’s bodies, hearts, and minds will be impacted for their entire future.” - Hiba Tibi.

CARE reiterates its calls for an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages, and urgent action to ensure access to healthcare, food, water, and the other basic necessities of life for Palestinians in Gaza, especially women and children, in a situation where the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) projected that more than half a million people would face catastrophic levels of food insecurity by February. The international community must act swiftly to avert a deepening humanitarian catastrophe.

CARE's response in North Gaza

Children in Gaza

Image: Children in Jabalia Refugee Camp in North Gaza. CARE/Grayscale Media.

The most deprived area of the medical services is North Gaza due to destruction of all Governmental Public Health Centres and closure of UNRWA health care facilities. CARE’s partner Juzoor took the lead in establishing health points inside displacement shelters. Currently Juzoor is running 55 centres in North Gaza. The data in this release was gathered during an immunization campaign where Mid Upper Arm Circumference was measured by trained nurses, for all children aged 6 months and more, across health sites in the North across January and February 2024.

CARE International has been operating in Gaza and the West Bank since 1948. Prior to the current conflict, we were supporting about 200,000 Palestinians in Gaza and we continue to support about 300,000 in the West Bank to meet basic food needs, improve farming and agriculture, empower women to earn an income, support women’s leadership, and improve health programs focused on gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health, and children’s mental health.

Since the escalation of the conflict, the CARE team in Gaza has been able to distribute hygiene kits, shelter items such as blankets and mattresses, and drinking water to over 262,928 vulnerable displaced people. CARE also reached over 76,397 people with medical support, including medications, medical supplies, and primary health services.

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