Desperate Gazans grind animal feed to make bread as threat of famine looms

UN has warned enclave is facing imminent new crisis following UNRWA funding cuts

Grain goes into a grinder to make flour for bread in Gaza city, as beleaguered Palestinians become increasingly desperate for food. AFP
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A looming famine is forcing Gazans in the northern part of the besieged enclave to resort to grinding animal feed to make bread for desperate families.

Sari Abu Khater, an internally displaced Palestinian in Jabalia camp in northern Gaza, is one of hundreds who have replaced scarce wheat with barley and corn – typically used to feed animals – to bake bread for his 18 family members.

“For two months we have been deprived of white flour and the world is witnessing our struggle as we face literal starvation,” Mr Abu Khater told The National.

“We cannot find anything to feed our children.”

However, the cost of grinding the grain is steep, which means families can make only a small amount of bread each day. Mr Abu Khater gives one piece of bread to each family member in the morning and another in the evening.

“We eat it with thyme, lentils, or something similar because there are no other options in the north [of Gaza],” he said.

About a month ago, he found some animal-feed grains. Determined to provide food for his desperate family, he began the process of grinding corn and barley to bake bread.

A video circulating on social media shows people at a mill in northern Gaza grinding animal feed to make flour.

“We used to wait at the mill for three days until our turn finally arrived,” Mr Abu Khater said of queuing to get some corn or barley.

After last week's decision by some western countries to pause funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), Michael Fakhri, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said “famine was inevitable” for the 2.3 million people in the Gaza Strip, which remains under intense Israeli attacks.

“This collectively punishes over 2.2 million Palestinians,” he said of the sustained bombardment and lack of aid entering the enclave.

Before the war started almost four months ago, an average of 500 aid lorries entered the Gaza Strip each day, according to the UN, which even then was hardly enough to properly feed Palestinians.

“The average number of trucks entering daily for about a week is estimated at around five to seven, loaded with food supplies,” UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna told The National.

But this level of relief does not “meet any of the needs of the residents of Gaza and the northern provinces”, Mr Abu Hasna added. “Tens of thousands of them are starving,” he said.

UNRWA has said its aid buses have been hit by Israeli gunfire, compounding the crisis.

Palestinians are also facing soaring market prices due to border closures and the shortage of goods.

“Everything is expensive,” seller Hashem Barghout told The National. “I'm attempting to negotiate with the trader I purchase from but they insist there are no goods available.”

Mr Barghout, who fled Gaza city to seek refuge in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza, now tries to sell food at a market.

“People cannot afford the prices and I strive to keep them reasonable,” he said. “However, it's challenging because I acquire the goods from the trader at high prices.”

Mr Barghout said costs have tripled and numerous items, including sugar and salt, have vanished from the market.

“We urgently need the Ministry of Economy to regulate market prices so we can assist the people,” he added.

Murad Al Ghandor, an internally displaced Palestinian now living in Jabalia camp, has been trying to buy wheat for six weeks. But with one bag costing about $200 he is no longer able to afford it.

“What fate will we face?” he said. “Will we die of hunger, or will God relieve us and end this war?”

Updated: January 31, 2024, 10:21 AM