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Pregnant women in Gaza deprived of food and water as mothers unable to feed their newborn babies

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In the midst of Gaza’s spiraling food crisis, tens of thousands of pregnant women are going desperately hungry, while mothers are so malnourished they are unable to breastfeed their newborn babies. According to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, 71% of Gaza’s population is now suffering from acute hunger, while 98% of people do not have enough to eat. The organisation Human Rights Watch has stated that the Israeli government is using starvation as a weapon of war, with devastating effects on Gaza’s population.

The impact on pregnant women, mothers, and their young children is severe. According to recent UN data, there are 155,000 pregnant and lactating women in Gaza in need of immediate lifesaving, preventative or curative nutrition interventions. In total, 7,685 children under five are suffering from life-threatening wasting – leaving them vulnerable to developmental delays, disease, and in severe cases death – while more than 4,000 are classed as ‘severely wasting’ and in need of life-saving treatment.
On average, there is now just 1.5 litres of water per person in Gaza per day to cover all their needs, from drinking to bathing and cleaning. Yet, in addition to the minimum of 15 litres of water per day per person required for basic survival, pregnant and lactating women need another 7.5 litres of safe water a day to keep themselves and their babies healthy.

Khitam, a mother to five children including a newborn baby, who is currently sheltering in a school in Deir Al Balah, told us she had nothing to feed her children. In a video message, she said: 

“There is no water and no food to eat. My little girl has a rash on her skin due to the lack of cleanliness here. Our situation is very difficult. How do you drink water? Is it enough for you and the baby? Of course not! There is no water to drink. There is no clean water. We barely quench our thirst. I [also] have four [other] children who have been wanting to eat since the morning but there is no bread."

Khitam was forced to flee her home due to a bombing just two days after giving birth and ran while carrying her baby in her arms. She said: "When the order to evacuate houses was issued...I had given birth just two days earlier. I was postpartum and tired. I had just been discharged from the hospital and [was still] bleeding. I was carrying my daughter and running. We were walking under missiles and shelling, sitting for a while to rest on the pavement and in the streets.”

People are queuing for hours in the hope of receiving food aid for their families, but either return empty-handed or with barely enough to keep them alive. Inaya*, who is staying in a camp in southern Gaza with her family after her home was destroyed by bombing, said: “For eight people, we are given three boxes of cheese with a couple of fava bean cans to last us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

While the scale of need in Gaza is staggering, the amount of aid entering the territory continues to be wholly inadequate. On average, just 100 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies are currently crossing the border at Rafah each day. A second border crossing, Kerem Shalom, opened on Sunday, but on Monday only 79 trucks entered. This is a drop in the ocean compared to the 500 trucks of aid and other supplies which, before October 7, entered Gaza every single day.

Riham Jafari, Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at ActionAid Palestine, says: “We are running out of words to describe the depth of the horror of what people in Gaza are having to endure. An entire population is going hungry, but pregnant and lactating women and their children are suffering the most. The stories we are hearing are harrowing.
Mothers are being forced to watch helplessly as their children scream and cry with hunger, while they are utterly powerless to do anything. One mother who was so deprived of food and water that she was unable to breastfeed told us of her horror at her baby slowly turning yellow from malnourishment.

“Terrifyingly, things could get worse. There is no time to waste. Each day hundreds of people in Gaza are already dying from the bombing – soon hundreds will also die from hunger and disease. Only an immediate and permanent ceasefire will prevent more entirely unnecessary deaths and allow food, fuel, medicine and other humanitarian aid on the enormous scale required to enter Gaza.”