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New Sea Route for Gaza Aid on Track. Treating Starving Children Is a Priority
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By Associated Press
Published 3 weeks ago on
May 4, 2024

On-the-ground preparations are on track in Gaza for humanitarian workers to be ready to deliver food, treatment for starving children and other urgent assistance by early or mid-May. (U.S. military's Central Command via AP)

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FITZGERALD — On-the-ground preparations are on track in Gaza for humanitarian workers to be ready to deliver food, treatment for starving children and other urgent assistance by early or mid-May when the American military expects to finish building a floating pier to receive the shipments, a U.S. Agency for International Development official said Friday.

Ramping up the delivery of aid on a planned U.S.-backed sea route will be gradual as aid groups test the distribution and security arrangements for relief workers, the USAID official told The Associated Press.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity over security concerns for work done in a conflict zone. They were some of the agency’s first comments on the status of preparations for the Biden administration’s $320 million Gaza pier project, for which USAID is helping coordinate on-the-ground security and distribution.

Addressing Food Crises

Meanwhile, at a factory in rural Georgia on Friday, USAID Administrator Samantha Power pointed to the food crises in Gaza and other parts of the world as she announced a $200 million investment aimed at increasing production of emergency nutritional paste for starving children under 5.

Power spoke to factory workers, peanut farmers and local dignitaries sitting among pallets of the paste at the Mana nonprofit in Fitzgerald. It is one of two factories in the U.S. that produces the nutritional food, which is used in clinical settings and made from ground peanuts, powdered milk, sugar and oil, ready to eat in plastic pouches resembling large ketchup packets.

“This effort, this vision meets the moment,” Power said. “And it could not be more timely, more necessary or more important.”

Gaza’s Imminent Risk of Famine

With the Israel-Hamas war stretching close to seven months and Israel restricting humanitarian aid, half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are at imminent risk of famine, international health officials say. Under pressure from the U.S. and others, Israeli officials in recent weeks have begun slowly reopening some border crossings for relief shipments.

But aid coming through the sea route, once it’s operational, still will serve only a fraction — half a million people — of those who need help in Gaza. Aid organizations including USAID stress that getting more aid through border crossings is essential to staving off famine in the territory.

Children under 5 are among the first to die when wars, droughts or other disasters curtail food. Hospital officials in northern Gaza reported the first deaths from hunger in early March and said most of the dead were children.

The panel that serves as the internationally recognized monitor for food crises said earlier this year that northern Gaza was on the brink of famine and likely to experience it by this month. While the next update will not come before this summer, it’s clear that so far there has not been enough food getting to north Gaza to avert famine, the USAID official said.

USAID’s Response to the Crisis

Power said the U.N. has called for 400 metric tons of the nutritional paste in the Palestinian territory “in light of the severe hunger that is pervading across Gaza right now, and the severe, acute humanitarian crisis.” USAID expects to provide a quarter of that, she said.

Globally, she said at the Georgia factory, the treatment made there “will save untold lives, millions of lives.”

USAID is coordinating with the U.N. World Food Program and other humanitarian partners and governments on security and distribution for the pier project, while U.S. military forces finish building it. President Joe Biden, under pressure to do more to ease the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza as the U.S. provides military support for Israel, announced the project in early March.

U.S. Central Command said in a statement Friday that offshore assembly of the floating pier has been temporarily paused due to high winds and sea swells, which caused unsafe conditions for soldiers. The partially built pier and the military vessels involved have gone to Israel’s Port of Ashdod, where the work will continue.

A U.S. official said the high seas will delay the installation for several days, possibly until later next week. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss operation details, said the pause could last longer if the bad weather continues because military personnel and divers have to get into the water for the final installation.

UN’s Role in Aid Deliveries

The United Nations has been muted about its role in the aid deliveries.

“We want to see more land operations. This is a sea operation,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday. “We are working with them, but obviously we have certain parameters that need to be respected, notably the basic humanitarian principles that we have of independence and being free from all sorts of military.”

The struggles this week with the first aid delivery through a newly reopened land corridor into north Gaza underscored the uncertainty about security and the danger still facing relief workers. Israeli settlers blocked the convoy before it crossed Wednesday. Once inside Gaza, the convoy was commandeered by Hamas militants, before U.N. officials reclaimed it.

Urgent Need for Nutritional Treatment in Gaza

In Gaza, the nutritional treatment for starving children is most urgently needed in the northern part of the Palestinian territory. Civilians have been cut off from most aid supplies, bombarded by Israeli airstrikes and driven into hiding by fighting.

Acute malnutrition rates among children under 5 have surged from 1% before the war to 30% five months later, the USAID official said. The official called it the fastest such climb in hunger in recent history, more than in grave conflicts and food shortages in Somalia or South Sudan.

One of the few medical facilities still operating in northern Gaza, Kamal Adwan hospital, is besieged by parents bringing in thousands of children with malnutrition for treatment, the official said. Aid officials believe many more starving children remain unseen and in need, with families unable to bring them through fighting and checkpoints for care.

Saving the gravely malnourished children in particular requires both greatly increased deliveries of aid and sustained calm in fighting, the official said, so that aid workers can set up treatment facilities around the territory and families can safely bring children in for the sustained treatment needed.

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