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After months of war in Gaza, famine is imminent for hundreds of thousands of people

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After more than five months of war, famine is imminent for hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza. That's according to a global monitor, the IPC Initiative. And the group says that more than 1 million people may be starving by mid-July. Matt Hollingworth is the Palestine director for the U.N.'s World Food Programme. He sent us this voice memo from Gaza.

MATT HOLLINGWORTH: It really is heartbreaking to see the levels of desperation, hunger, of hopelessness across the entirety of the Strip. So many mothers who go to sleep listening to the cries of their children because they are still hungry, and many parents who are skipping meals day by day by day just to ensure that their children have something every evening.

MARTIN: Arif Husain is on the line with us to tell us more about this. He is the chief economist for the World Food Programme. Good morning.

ARIF HUSAIN: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So health officials in Gaza say 27 children and three adults have died so far from malnutrition. And according to that IPC report that we just mentioned, that number could grow dramatically within weeks. Can you give me a picture of how much more food needs to get in to stave off mass starvation?

HUSAIN: Well, so in the Gaza Strip, we need about 300 trucks every single day if we are going to avert this situation. Those 300 trucks must carry food, but we also need water and medicine. If we have that on a very regular basis, meaning through all different border crossings, by road and also by sea, and it is sustained, if we can make sure that our people who are supposed to deliver this aid - they can do it safely, if we can make sure that people who are receiving this aid can receive safely, I think we can save, not hundreds, but thousands of lives which are at risk right now.

MARTIN: So you're saying you need 300 a day. About how many are getting in? How many trucks are getting in - roughly?

HUSAIN: Not enough - I would say less than a third at best.

MARTIN: So the U.N. secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, has called this an entirely man-made disaster. What is the biggest obstacle to getting food and water into Gaza because we keep getting contradictory information about this? I mean, as I'm sure you know, Israeli authorities insist that there is no limit to aid, that the aid is getting in, but they say it's being looted or diverted by Hamas. So what are your people seeing on the ground?

HUSAIN: Right. So, you know, for me, this is not a blame game. This is something which, you know, in 21st century, you can actually see through satellites and everything. I think this is something where, you know, we need to go with, you know, if there is a will, there is a way. And if as humanity, as the world, we come together and say that no innocent child, woman, man should die from hunger-related causes, then it is our collective responsibility to do something about it. And I think if all of us, all the parties are thinking the same way, then this is a solvable problem. World Food - with our partners, we have enough food right now to feed all the 2.2 million people in Gaza Strip, but it's not going through. So whatever the obstacles, whether they are on the border crossings, whether they're long inspections, whether they're, you know, desperate people needing food and attacking that, those need to be addressed.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, are the sea routes and the airdrops that we've been hearing about - is that making any dent in this crisis, or is overland really the only viable option?

HUSAIN: Look, all of the above matters. We need to have all hands on deck to make this work.

MARTIN: That is Arif Husain. He's the chief economist for the United Nations World Food Programme. Mr. Husain, thank you so much for speaking with us.

HUSAIN: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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