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'Full-fledged famine' threat in Gaza continues to rise as aid declines, humanitarian groups warn

More than three months after Israel began its siege in response to the surprise attack by the terrorist group Hamas on Oct. 7, the United Nations has been issuing major warnings of a catastrophic food crisis in Gaza, where they say more than half a million people are already starving.

Even before the war, roughly two-thirds of Gazans were reliant on food aid, according to the World Food Program.

But now the need is far higher with nearly 2 million people displaced and with Israel only allowing in roughly half the number of trucks compared to enter prior to the war, while intense fighting has made it dangerous to deliver food, according to the U.N.

PHOTO: Gazan children wait in a long line for food. (ABC News)
PHOTO: Gazan children wait in a long line for food. (ABC News)

The scale of the crisis is now such that roughly 577,000 Gazans, or 26% of the population, are starving, according to Arif Husain, the chief economist for WFP.

"If things continue as they are, or if things worsen, we are looking at a full-fledged famine within the next six months," he told ABC News.

MORE: Israel-Gaza live updates

Almost all Gazans are now reliant on food aid for sustenance, according to the U.N.

Maryam al-Dahdough, a mother of four who is pregnant with another child, was one of the thousand people who line up daily at a soup kitchen in Rafah in southern Gaza.

She told ABC News that she has not eaten eggs, milk, or anything healthy for three months and it's been worse for her other children.

"Fever, vomiting, diarrhea all day, not a single one of them is healthy," she said.

PHOTO: Aid workers prepare food for displaced Gazans (ABC News)
PHOTO: Aid workers prepare food for displaced Gazans (ABC News)

Husain said that he has never seen a food crisis grow this dire so quickly in his 20 years of experience, saying in terms of scale, severity and speed it was “unprecedented.”

Israeli officials, who control the routes into Gaza, say they send 200 trucks of food and aid a day into the country. Before the war, 500 trucks were being sent to Gaza, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA.

Israeli officials denied accusations they are not letting enough food into Gaza and blamed Hamas for stealing aid. They also blamed the U.N. and other aid agencies for creating logistical bottlenecks.

The U.N. has disputed the Israeli officials' claims, saying on average far less than two hundred trucks are entering most days. UN officials have said excessive Israeli inspections, as well as arbitrary rejections of some aid, frequently hold up deliveries.

"We are getting the average of trucks near 80, 80 trucks per day," UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abo Hasna told ABC News.

UNRWA officials also say Israel provides too few authorizations to make deliveries into some areas and that heavy fighting often makes it too dangerous for aid workers to operate. Israel disputes the criticisms.

UNRWA has come under fire over the last week after Israeli officials accused a dozen of its workers of taking part in the Oct. 7 Hamas assault. Israeli officials claim one of those members participated in the kidnappings.

The U.N. condemned the alleged attacks and nine of those workers were fired. Two of the accused are reportedly dead and one has not immediately been identified, the U.N. said.

Not long after the allegations were announced on Friday, several nations and other organizations, including the U.S. State Department, announced that it would pause funding to the UNRWA as the investigation continues.

On Monday, a coalition of 20 non-governmental organizations, including Save the Children, sent out a letter condemning the funding pause, stressing that innocent Gazans will be left to suffer without aid from the organization.

"We are shocked by the reckless decision to cut a lifeline for an entire population by some of the very countries that had called for aid in Gaza to be stepped up and for humanitarians to be protected while doing their job," the statement read.

UNRWA, which is the primary aid provider in Gaza and shelters around 1.4 million people, has warned that the funding suspension could impact its operations within weeks.

The worst of the situation is in northern Gaza, according to the U.N. which said Israel is granting few permissions for aid groups.

Some northern Gazan residents say deliveries are hard to reach, and those that manage to, often re-sell food for high prices.

PHOTO: Gazans wait in a long line to receive food aid. (ABC News)
PHOTO: Gazans wait in a long line to receive food aid. (ABC News)

Videos have shown stampedes breaking out, and hundreds of people crushed together scrabbling for food. A video captured in December showed shots were fired near an aid distribution point, though ABC News has not confirmed who fired the shots and IDF has said they had no known operations in the area at the time.

"I had seen people looking into the garbage of other people for food. And I felt so sad for them. But I never imagined that I would do something similar," a northern Gazan woman who asked not to be identified over fears for her safety told ABC News.

There are also severe shortages of clean water, according to humanitarian groups.

MORE: 'Catastrophic': Residents, aid organizations describe conditions in northern Gaza

The U.N. said 1.9 million Palestinians, roughly 85% of the country's population, have been displaced to camps and other settlements where fresh water is hard to come by and humanitarian aid groups have warned of disease epidemics in those locations.

Ahmad Ismael, who has been living in a tent in a camp with thousands of other displaced people in Rafah with his four children, told ABC News that they have to use a small bucket for a toilet.

"You wake up to think about the situation of the tent. Is there water flowing or not," he said.

PHOTO: Ahmad Ismael has been living in a settlement camp in Rafah with his family for the last three months. (ABC News)
PHOTO: Ahmad Ismael has been living in a settlement camp in Rafah with his family for the last three months. (ABC News)

"We receive canned food from the agency’s warehouse every two or three days. It doesn’t meet our needs, and comes incomplete, but we buy other things, and we make our food here over the fire," Ismael added.

As Israel continues to advance in southern Gaza, more Palestinians continue to flee combat areas and there is more pressure on aid agencies to deliver needed supplies.

"We hope to God that the war will stop, we have had enough," Ismael said. "Let us go back to our lives."

'Full-fledged famine' threat in Gaza continues to rise as aid declines, humanitarian groups warn originally appeared on abcnews.go.com