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Ever since the blockade of Gaza started there’s been talks of mass starvation in Gaza. But upon checking the Wiki article on the war I was surprised to find out only 32,000 people have died on the Palestinian side of the conflict so far (according to Hamas officials), which suggests that there’s still enough food for the local residents.

So are there still plenty of food reserves/supplies in Gaza? Or is Hamas under accounting hunger casualties among their citizens?

Update: still only 34k casualties as of May 5th.

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Let's unpack some of this.

"I was surprised to find out only 32,000 people have died"

That works out to 1.5%-ish of the population of Gaza. That's a lot, after 6 months of war. For reference compare it to WW2's death rates, after 6 years of war. It's more than what France suffered at 1.26%, more than the UK at 0.76% and the US at 0.32%.

Now, as I have answered before, Gaza is an outlier in its challenges: it was never going to be easy to remove Hamas from a big city where civilians can't be evacuated. Combat deaths and collateral casualties amounting to 32000 would be excessive to avenge 10/7's 1300 deaths. But is it excessive to remove the threat of 10/7 happening again? Others can argue about it either way, I'll sit that out.

But by no means does that proportion of deaths in a total population deserve the qualifier "only 32000".

"So… are there still plenty of food reserves/supplies in Gaza? Or is Hamas under accounting hunger casualties among their citizens?"

Let's state the obvious here. Both sides are going to talk up their angle and members of the public will have no way to know, which is why I voted to close.

Nor do we know who is more at fault with the alleged famine, though many of us have opinions, one way or another.

  • Hamas will talk up deaths and talk down delivered aid.
  • Israel will talk down deaths and talk up delivered aid.

"there’s still enough food for the local residents"

Possibly and possibly not. We have had numerous warnings from the IPC, a UN agency (yes, of course, if someone wants to make a talking point out of that, they can) that was set up specifically to provide advance warnings of famine worldwide.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Famine Review Committee (FRC) was activated on 1 March 2024 by the IPC Global Support Unit (GSU) considering the extreme severity of the evidence provided.

The findings of the FRC review confirm that Famine is now projected and imminent in the North Gaza and Gaza Governorates and is expected to become manifest from mid-March 2024 to May 2024. The Famine threshold for acute food insecurity has already been far exceeded and the steeply increasing trend in malnutrition data indicates that it is highly likely that the Famine threshold for acute malnutrition has also been exceeded. The FRC expects the upward trend in non-trauma mortality to accelerate and for all Famine thresholds to be passed imminently.

FEWS - Famine Early Warning System, a US agency, March 18th:

Famine (IPC Phase 5) is imminent in northern Gaza, likely by May

Or even (anonymous) State Dept officials, according to Reuters:

"While we can say with confidence that famine is a significant risk in the south and center but not present, in the north it is both a risk and quite possibly is present in at least some areas," the official said on condition of anonymity.

At the risk of stating the obvious: Reuters is not Al-Jazeera, so claims of bias should be assessed accordingly.

But we still don't have many deaths, do we?

True, famine deaths are probably a tiny fraction of overall deaths at this point. However, bear in mind that, a) they provide limited military gains and b) if intentional by either side, they would constitute a clear war crime.

In a previous answer, I have claimed that famines start out slowly and then can quickly snowball. So, time to back that up.

Not claiming that the situation is necessarily very similar to Gaza **, but here's a death timeline from a historical study of the 1944-1945 Dutch "hunger winter" (which resulted in a total of 10-25k excess deaths) and lasting health complications in the survivors.

Figure 2 shows monthly deaths combing all causes (rates per 1,000 population) for the years 1944–7 in The Netherlands, by sex, in the locations of interest.

enter image description here

Things to consider:

  • it took months to get going (food started getting cut off in Oct 44)
  • once it got started, it grew very quickly.
  • the baseline leading up to it is WW2's wartime mortality rate in the Netherlands, one of the worst affected Western European countries in WW2 (2.41% deaths).
  • it didn't end right away when those places got liberated.
  • many deaths are not directly from hunger, rather from diminished bodily resistance to disease and cold. That's why this study talks about excess deaths.

Now, if we'll stop bickering for a second about who is causing this alleged famine, can we at least agree that it is to everyone's best advantage to minimize the risk of it actually happening?

(call me conspirationally-minded here, but a famine might work out best for Hamas, especially if Israel gets the blame)

No, this answer is not claiming that the 1944 Netherlands == 2024 Gaza or are even largely comparable. Only that complacency at this current time (March 31, 2024) could end up being misplaced and it is basing that on showing the mortality timeline for a, well-documentated, wartime famine event.


* Hamas is a terrorist organization and has repeatedly lied about 10/7. Normally I'd be inclined to trust the Israeli government a whole lot more on its claims. That is still largely true, but one needs to take into account who is running the aid efforts on their side: B. Smotrich.

** differences might include:

  • age pyramid: old Dutch men died most, Gaza has few old people and infants are at highest risk
  • preceding food situation and stockpiles
  • care by responsible authorities (the Dutch govt was running food kitchens)
  • population density and availability of arable land (most Dutch deaths were in the cities, not the country side)
  • Gaza's winters are much milder than the Netherlands'
  • ...

Update: found a clear, and concise, walkthrough of factors that facilitate famines, by an academic specialist. Well worth a read, especially as it mostly steers clear of Gaza in its explanations. And also warns of the risk of rapid increases in mortality from lower levels.

Although not always the case, a “classic” pattern for famine systems – whether in Somalia during 2011-2012 or Leningrad in 1941-1942 – is a steep rise and high peak in mortality. This is the period in which a famine can be unambiguously declared, but it is also too late to prevent the loss of life.


Recent updates from US officials, as of May 6, 2024:

Cindy McCain - executive director of the World Food Programme - on May 3rd

"What I can explain to you is — is that there is famine — full-blown famine — in the north, and it's moving its way south," she said.

Is this refutable because McCain, the widow of the late Senator is somehow biased against Israel?

Samantha Powers - director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), April 11th

When Castro asked her to clarify if that meant famine is already occurring there, Power responded, "Yes."

"Food has not flowed in sufficient quantities to avoid this imminent famine in the south, and these conditions that are giving rise already to child deaths in the north," she said.

A non-US UN official, April 25th, - Northern Gaza still heading toward famine, says deputy WFP chief

"We certainly welcome those commitments and some of them have been partly implemented. Some remain to be implemented," World Food Programme (WFP) Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau told reporters, adding that for WFP there had been an "uptick" in getting aid in and some progress in accessing northern Gaza.

"But it's far from enough. We need volume and we need diversity of goods and we really need consistency," he said. "We're still heading towards a famine (in the north)."

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    Is Israel currently claiming that there is no hunger among the Gaza population? I was under the impression that this part is agreed on by everyone and Israel claims that enough stockpiles exist/ food help arrives in Gaza but Hamas is hording it/ not distributing it to the population.
    – quarague
    Commented Apr 1 at 7:44
  • @quarague: actually, they seem to claiming both: more food is getting into Gaza than before the war; Hamas steals a lot of it, but there's still no hunger in Gaza (at least not to any crisis level). Commented Apr 1 at 13:19
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    @quarague 1st kind of stmt: ; 2nd kind: 3rd kind. Commented Apr 1 at 13:33
  • @quarague Granted the last unequivocal statement of the latter kind [I found] was in January, but AIPAC/COGAT claims that food entry into Gaza has only increased since then. So, unless Hamas has somehow managed to steal even more, despite being killed in droves... (IIRC the IDF claims they've killed around 10,000 Hamas. And in Jan the IDF didn't claim control over Khan Younis, IIRC, but they did in March.) Commented Apr 1 at 13:39
  • @quarague: actually, it looks like Netanyahu gave the 3rd kind of stateme in March too washingtonpost.com/world/2024/03/14/… (interview date is not too clear there). Yeah, it was on March 10 politico.eu/article/… Commented Apr 1 at 13:44
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The World Bank has reported that half of Gazans are at imminent risk of catostrophic famine. The World Health Organization has said more or less the same. Even Israel's staunchest international allies are warning that famine is already present in the enclave. The US state department has said that famine is present. UK foreign secratary David Cameron has urged Israel to allow more aid in. Clearly if the view of UK intelligence was that there are stockpiles of food in Gaza, he wouldn't be saying this. Similarly, Lloyd Austin, US defence secratary, has urged Israel to do more to deal with the humanitarian disaster and imminent famine in Gaza. Actually, I am not aware of a single major international body or goverment (other than Israel) that denies the dire situation in Gaza. So to answer your question, no there are no stockpiles of foods in Gaza, and yes children are tragically already starving to death and more will starve in the future if Israel does not lift its blockade.

Regarding your surprise at "only" 32,000 Gazans having died so far, a previous answer points out that this is actually a significant percentage of Gaza's population. I would like to add, that given the devastation visited on Gaza, it is highly improbable that anyone can compile an accurate count of deaths. It is sadly likely that there are many dead under rubble, or dead in North Gaza, where there is a total breakdown of authority, whose deaths have not been counted.


Edit: regarding my last point about there being many missing and unaccounted for, I recently came across this article which gives the number of Gaza's missing as in the "tens of thousands". Tragically, from the article, it appears that this figures includes a large number of mentally and physically disabled.

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