Yesterday, the IPC Global Initiative issued a special brief on food insecurity in Gaza. It is shocking. They warn of ‘imminent famine.’

USAID’s FEWS NET also provided a detailed analysis and confirmed the findings.

Let’s not be preoccupied with whether it’s ‘famine’ or not. It’s a disaster of surpassing intensity.

In January I wrote a backgrounder on the previous Gaza famine warning and the Integrated food security Phase Classification system, the metric used for measuring acute food insecurity.

Today, 95% of the population in Gaza is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. About 30% of the population is in ‘catastrophe’ and a further 40% in ‘emergency.’ The prediction is that half of the population will be in ‘catastrophe’ or ‘famine’ in the coming months.

These are the figures:

And these are the maps:

Compare the last occasion on which IPC data have been used to advise that ‘famine’ is occurring, South Sudan in 2017.

During South Sudan’s 2013-2018 war, about 190,000 people perished of hunger and disease. More than 95% were in areas classified as ‘emergency.’ Children die of hunger, disease and exposure when a location is classified as ‘emergency.’ In the paper that formulated the first famine intensity scale, a death rate of more than 1 per 10,000 per day was the threshold for ‘famine’, whereas in the IPC it is the threshold for ‘emergency.’

This graph shows how South Sudan’s increased mortality unfolded with large numbers of people in ‘crisis’ and ‘emergency’, and relatively few in ‘catastrophe’ or ‘famine’:

In the 2011 famine in Somalia, the clearest case in recent decades, 490,000 people were in ‘catastrophe’.

Gaza has surpassed those numbers today. We have not seen starvation unfolding at this intensity and speed in a generation or more. The disaster is now.


Alex de Waal is executive director of the World Peace Foundation and Research Professor at the Fletcher School, Tufts University. He has worked on the Horn of Africa, and on conflict, food security and related issues since the 1980s as a researcher and practitioner. He served as a senior advisor to the African Union High Level Panel on Sudan and South Sudan. He was listed among Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential international intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic’s 29 ‘brave thinkers’ in 2009 and is the recipient of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Huxley Award. De Waal’s recent books include: The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business of Power (Polity 2015), Mass Starvation: The history and future of famine (Polity 2018), New Pandemics, Old Politics: 200 years of the war on disease and its alternatives (Polity 2021), and (as co-author), Sudan’s Unfinished Democracy: The promise and betrayal of a people’s revolution (Hurst and Oxford 2022).

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