New study finds food supply to Gaza more than sufficient for population’s needs

Food delivered through crossings ‘provided for a mean of 3,163 calories per person per day’ for Gazans, 40% higher than the accepted humanitarian standard for daily calorie intake

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Armed and masked Palestinians seen on trucks loaded with international humanitarian aid entering Gaza via the Israeli Kerem Shalom Crossing, southern Gaza Strip, April 3, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90
Armed and masked Palestinians seen on trucks loaded with international humanitarian aid entering Gaza via the Israeli Kerem Shalom Crossing, southern Gaza Strip, April 3, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90

A group of highly respected academics and public health officials who authored a working paper on the amount of food entering the Gaza Strip during the war have concluded that the supply from January through April is sufficient for the population’s daily energy and protein needs.

Analyzing data from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) agency of the Defense Ministry, which includes the weight of consignments of specific food commodities and standardized food parcels delivered to Gaza, the authors found that the mean energy availability across four months was 3,163 kcal per person, per day.

This significantly exceeds the widely accepted standard of 2,100 kcals per person, per day established by the Sphere humanitarian organization, for the minimum amount of food aid required in response to a crisis.

The new study comes following a bombshell announcement by International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan on Monday that he is seeking to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant with crimes against humanity and war crimes for allegedly using deliberate starvation as a method of war against Palestinians in Gaza.

“This in-depth analysis highlights the fact that the amount of food delivered per capita should be sufficient for the entire Gazan population, and meets Sphere humanitarian recommendations for food aid delivery to conflict-affected populations, during the period examined,” the new study found.

The authors also found that the amount of food entering Gaza was “significantly greater” in the January-April period under review than in the pre-October 7 period.

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid which Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) agency says entered Gaza on Thursday, May 16, 2024. (Courtesy COGAT)

The study was authored by Dr. Naomi Fliss Isakov, head of research at the Department of Nutrition of the Israeli Ministry of Health (MOH); Prof. Dorit Nitzan,  Director of the Masters Program in Emergency Medicine in  Ben Gurion University’s School of Public Health and former World Health Organization Regional Emergency Director for the European Region; Moran Blaychfeld Magnazi, the deputy director of the Nutrition Division at the Health Ministry; Prof. Aron Troen of Hebrew University’s School of Nutrition Science; Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the Public Health Directorate at the Health Ministry; and Prof. Ronit Endevelt (PhD) of Haifa University and director of the nutrition division at the Health Ministry.

The paper is currently in the peer-review process in the Israel Journal of Health Policy Research so the findings are provisional and the conclusions may change, the authors noted.

In another important finding, the study found that only 54 percent of the pallets transferred into Gaza were dispatched by UN and humanitarian agencies operating in the territory.

In a petition to the High Court of Justice in April demanding the government increase the supply of aid to Gaza, humanitarian organizations stated that the aid agencies in the territory had experienced severe difficulties coordinating the distribution of aid within Gaza because of the hostilities, and alleged that the IDF had rejected high numbers of distribution requests inside the coastal enclave, which they alleged was a leading cause of a lack of access to food, and of malnutrition as a result.

But the government told the court in April that it had rejected only 1.5% of such requests, while COGAT has consistently argued that it is transferring more aid than the humanitarian agencies are dispatching. COGAT stated that as of May 21, there were 650 truckloads of supplies that had been transferred into Gaza territory and were awaiting collection and distribution

Speaking to The Times of Israel, Troen acknowledged that the question of the distribution of food aid within Gaza was crucial for ensuring that the Palestinian population has access to the food being brought in, but insisted that this was the responsibility of aid agencies on the ground and the Palestinian authorities in Gaza.

Accusations of severe food insecurity, malnutrition and even famine have formed an integral part of the allegations against Israel of genocide against the Palestinians in the International Court of Justice and of crimes against humanity and war crimes in the ICC.

Director of the World Food Program (WFP) Cindy McCain declared on May 3 that there was a “full-blown famine” in northern Gaza.

Palestinian children said suffering from malnutrition receive treatment at a healthcare center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 5, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Asked what data this claim was based on, a spokesperson for WFP said that the latest data was a study by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) organization, issued in a mid-March report.

That report, cited by the ICJ in its March 28 orders against Israel, stated that famine was imminent in Gaza and that 677,000 people were already in the Phase 5 Catastrophe level of its food insecurity scale, which is a designation of famine for households.

The IPC website notes that in regions suffering from famine, the crude death rate can be defined as ranging from one person per 10,000 per day to five people per 10,000 per day.

According to the lower figure, this would mean that at least 68 people would be dying of starvation in Gaza every day, in recent months.

The IPC did not respond to requests for comment transmitted to several officials as to whether it had new data for mortality as a result of famine in Gaza, or new data on the level of food insecurity in the territory.

The IPC’s March report said that it “could not benefit from representative evidence of non-trauma mortality as intended by IPC Protocols,” essentially meaning it did not have data on deaths from famine.

The last data issued by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on mortality from starvation was on March 15, citing figures from the Hamas-run Gazan health ministry, which stated that 31 people, including 27 children, had died from malnutrition and dehydration.

The new Israeli study analyzed data on food shipments delivered into the Gaza Strip by land between January and April 2024, provided by COGAT, which included the gross weight of each consignment and its content.

An image of what the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) agency of the Israeli Defense Ministry says is aid consignments from 650 truckloads of humanitarian aid awaiting collection and dispatch by the UN and aid agencies after being transferred into Gaza, May 21, 2024. (Courtesy COGAT)

Unlike data provided by the UN’s Palestinian aid agency UNRWA, COGAT’s reports included data on aid delivered from multiple sources and not only UN agencies, such as national and private sector donations.

The energy (kcal/ton), protein (gm/ton), fat (gm/ton) and iron (mg/ton) content of each shipment, be it specific food commodities or standard food parcels, was estimated by the study according to the food composition values based on the US Department of Agriculture database.

Standard food parcels are packages of rice or pasta, legumes, oil and sweets.

In total, data from 14,916 trucks weighing 227,853.8 tons of food items recorded in the COGAT database were analyzed in the study.

According to the paper, the mean calories available per person per day in Gaza in January was 3,076 kcal, for February that figure dropped to 1,741 kcal, but then rose in March to 3,446 kcal and rose again in April to 4,580 kcal.

The study evaluated that the amounts of food and their nutritional values of energy and protein met humanitarian standards, although dietary fat and iron were lower than recommended values.

Sphere guidelines are for 2,100 kcal per person per day, though the age-adjusted population dietary needs of Gaza are 1,898 kcal due to the preponderance of children in the population.

The study’s analysis demonstrated that 3,211 kcal per person per day had been transferred into Gaza through Israel’s goods crossings from January through April.

The paper also found that the food content of the shipments was “diverse, and grows by month in amounts and nutritional values.”

Troen noted that ongoing analysis of food delivered via other routes, including by air and sea, yielded even higher estimates of available nutrition.

He said that the group of academics and public health experts who authored the paper had done so since “All of us take the concerns of a humanitarian crisis extremely seriously” but were worried that the picture emerging of Israel’s efforts to facilitate humanitarian aid to Gaza was inaccurate.

He also pointed to numerous reports of Hamas combatants seizing aid consignments and aid convoys being looted by Palestinians as reasons why aid may not have reached those in need.

“We would like to see improvement on the delivery of food in Gaza, and see Hamas held accountable for impeding it,” Troen said. “Where is the Palestinian agency and responsibility for dealing with this serious concern. If Palestine is a state then it has obligations as much as Israel does.

“I’m not denying that there is severe suffering and very great need in Gaza. But if we are collectively members of the community of nations who believe in upholding human rights then we can actually only do that together in a credible collective effort, based on real information, and not weaponizing scant information, which becomes misinformation, and eventually demonization of Israel.”

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