Australia has stepped up to prevent famine before and should do so again in Gaza

Save the Children Australia is calling on the Australian Government to do everything in its power to urgently address rising starvation and malnutrition and avert a catastrophic famine in Gaza, including increasing humanitarian support to the region and applying greater pressure on the Government of Israel to allow adequate aid to reach those in need.

Israel’s systematic deprivation of aid to Gaza has led to one of the worst hunger crises in the world today, with recent IPC figures warning of imminent famine which may have already unfolded. Unless there is an immediate surge of humanitarian aid into Gaza, many more children could die of starvation than have been killed by Israel’s relentless bombardment over the past six months.

Despite the Government of Israel approving the temporary reopening of the Erez Crossing, a date for the reopening hasn’t been provided yet and Israeli authorities continue to deny UNRWA food convoys access to northern Gaza, where many children and families are facing acute hunger and malnutrition at levels already far exceeding the threshold for famine.

In response to famine being declared in the Horn of Africa in 2011, Australia donated AU$112 million to Somalia and its neighbours, ultimately making Australia the third-largest donor in the world in absolute terms and second-largest donor relative to GDP.

Despite this, more than a quarter of a million people died in Somalia, about half of them children aged under five. The Australian government later acknowledged it had failed to act quickly enough.

In 2012, Save the Children and Oxfam released a report titled ‘A Dangerous Delay: The cost of the response to early warnings in the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa’, in which they concluded that tens of thousands of lives could have been saved if the international community hadn’t failed to heed the warnings.

As Australia scaled up its humanitarian aid to Somalia in July 2011, about 490,000 people in the country were experiencing catastrophic food insecurity. In Gaza, the number of people experiencing catastrophic food insecurity reached 677,000 in mid-March and is projected to increase to more than 1.1 million by July 2024.

With at least 28 children reportedly already having died of starvation in Gaza, and tens of thousands more at serious risk, Save the Children is calling on Australia to learn from the past and prevent thousands more children dying because of hunger and malnutrition by taking action, including by doubling the Humanitarian Emergency Fund to AU$300 million annually and immediately allocating some of that additional funding to Gaza.

Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said:

“Australia’s response to the famine in Somalia in 2011 serves as an important reminder that when there is political will, this country can step up and save lives. Unfortunately, it also serves as a reminder that once a famine is declared, many children will already be dead,” he said.

“In Gaza today, there are children already dying due to a lack of food or surviving only by eating animal feed and leaves while just a few kilometres away on the other side of the border, there are hundreds of trucks full of food, unable to deliver lifesaving aid due to restrictions imposed by the Government of Israel.

“The Australian Government has not only a moral imperative to act but is also bound by its obligations under international humanitarian law, and the International Court of Justice ruling, to ensure that Palestinians are protected.”

Save the Children urges the Australian Government to apply as much pressure as possible on the Government of Israel to allow the free flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, to facilitate aid agencies to distribute that aid, and to end all attacks on aid convoys, aid distribution centres, and humanitarian workers.

“The Australian Government has called for a ceasefire, committed a decent amount of funding to support humanitarian efforts and called on Israel to allow aid into Gaza but the war rages on and more and more children are inching closer to starvation every day,” Mr Tinkler said.

“It’s time for Australia to step up again, as it did for Somalia, but to also learn from our mistakes and act swiftly to prevent countless Palestinian children suffering the excruciating death by hunger and malnutrition, as so many Somali children did in 2011.”

/Public Release. View in full here.