Dead horses, waste and leaves: growing famine in Gaza

Henry

At the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, Abu Gibril was so desperate to feed his family that he slaughtered two of his horses.

“We had no choice but to slaughter the horses to feed the children. The hunger is killing us,” he told AFP.

Before the war, which broke out after Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel on October 7, Jabalia was the largest camp in Palestinian territory. According to Israel, around 1,160 people died in this attack.

60-year-old Gibril fled from nearby Beit Hanun when the conflict broke out. For him and his family, their home is now a tent near what used to be a UN school.

Contaminated water, power outages and overcrowding had previously been a problem in the densely populated camp, which was established in 1948 and extends over an area of ​​approximately 1.4 km².

Poverty due to high unemployment was also a huge problem for the more than 100,000 people there.

Now the food is running out. And due to continued bombings and the frenzied looting of the few trucks trying to enter the area, relief teams’ hands have been cut off.

The World Food Program said last week that its teams were reporting “unprecedented levels of desperation”, while the United Nations (UN) warned that 2.2 million people were teetering on the brink of starvation.

On Friday, the Department of Health in Hamas-controlled Gaza said a two-month-old baby died of malnutrition in a hospital in Gaza City. It is about 7 km from Jabalia.

In total, almost 30,000 people have already died in Gaza since the start of the war, according to the Hamas-controlled department.

Scavenging and begging

In the camp, devoured children wait hopefully with plastic containers and battered cooking pots in hand for the little food that is available. The stock is getting less and the price of food more and more. A kilogram of rice, for example, shot up from ₪7 (about R37) to ₪55 (about R295).

“The adults will still make it, but these children are four and five years old. What did they do wrong to go to bed hungry and wake up hungry again,” one man asked angrily.

Unicef, the UN’s children’s agency, has warned that the alarming lack of food, rising malnutrition and disease could lead to an “explosion” in child deaths in Gaza.

One in six children under two in Gaza is acutely malnourished, it was estimated by mid-February.

Residents now eat scraps of rotten corn, animal feed unfit for human consumption, and even leaves to quell the worst pangs of hunger.

“There is no food, no wheat, no drinking water,” said a woman.

“We started begging the neighbors for money. We don’t have a single shekel at home. We knock on doors, but no one gives us money.”

Die of hunger

In Jabalia, tempers run high over the lack of food and its consequences and on Friday dozens of people came together for a spontaneous demonstration.

One child held a poster that read: “We didn’t die in airstrikes, but we die of hunger.”

Another’s poster read “famine eats at us”, while protesters held up placards that read: “no to famine, no to genocide, no to the blockade”.

In Beit Hanun, Abu Gibril previously used his two horses to cultivate a piece of land. But the conflict destroyed it and with it his home – and left him with nothing.

Over the past weeks and months, Israel’s bombardment has left Gaza in ruins, a place of ruined concrete and broken lives.

Gibril kept the drastic decision to slaughter his horses to himself; he cooked the meat with rice and served it to his unknowing family and neighbors.