No Mother’s Day celebrations in Gaza: women watch children go hungry

21 March 2024

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This Palestinian Mother’s Day brings no celebration as women watch their children starve, more food aid must be permitted to enter Gaza or more children will die.

This year on Palestinian Mother’s Day (March 21), instead of celebration, women in Gaza are watching helplessly as their children go hungry and thirsty without any hope of feeding them, while struggling to keep them dry and clean without essentials such as nappies and warm clothing.  
Abla*, a displaced mother who is currently sheltering in a tent with her nine children, says there is no food with which to break their fast for Ramadan. She said: "How do I feed nine children barely co-existing in a small tent? What will I feed them for Iftar? I have children and young adults who need nutrition. We do not even have access to clean water.  
“A few tomatoes and cucumbers are not sufficient food, with some cheese that is not always available. What will a small piece of cheese or tin of meat do for nine people? How should we eat and drink? We have been fasting for five months, way before Ramadan started.” 
Shirhan, a displaced mother of six currently living in a camp in Gaza, says she has nothing to feed to her children and is unable to produce milk for her baby. In a video message, she said: “I try to breastfeed my baby, but I don’t have milk which causes him to cry out in hunger. I don’t have proper nutrition or food…I would be able to breastfeed if I were eating well. We don’t have much food and we are hungry. We didn’t get bread, nor any flour to make bread to eat. We didn’t get any help or aid at all.” 
Unable to afford nappies, which have soared in price, she is forced to use unsuitable alternatives, risking skin rashes or infections. 
Shirhan said: “Nappies are very expensive, and so is baby formula. We don’t have anything; I go around tents asking people for help. An individual nappy costs me 5 shekels [£1.09]. That is a lot of money for one nappy. And even if it were cheaper, we don’t have money to buy them. I use old pieces of cloth in place of nappies. I tear some of my daughters’ tops sometimes. I tear the clothes we don’t need or ask people for help. I also use plastic bags [in place of nappies].”   
As the IPC’s recent report warns that 70% of people in the north of Gaza face famine anytime between now and May, and half the population – some 1.1 million people – face catastrophic levels of food insecurity, children are already dying as a result of malnutrition due to the chronic lack of food. At least 27 children in northern Gaza have reportedly died from malnutrition and dehydration in recent weeks, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry – leaving more than two dozen women at least in mourning this mother’s day. Dr Mohammed Salha, director of the northern Gaza hospital run by ActionAid partner Al-Awda, told us doctors have seen an increase in children dying and cases of women losing their babies very late in their pregnancies as a result of malnutrition. 
Unless more food aid is permitted to enter Gaza immediately and allowed to reach those most in need, it is tragically inevitable that more children will die. Already one in three children across the territory are acutely malnourished, UNICEF says, while 4.5% of children in shelters and health centres in northern Gaza and 4% of children in Rafah are suffering from severe wasting – the most life-threatening form of malnutrition that requires urgent treatment. At least 300 aid trucks need to enter Gaza every single day to address the population’s most basic food needs, according to the World Food Programme (WFP) – yet in 2024, less than 100 trucks have been allowed into Gaza each day on average. The WFP has only managed to take nine convoys to the north of Gaza, where the need is most severe, since the start of the year, the most recent of which – on Sunday night – involved just 18 truckloads of food, UNOCHA reported.  
New mothers in Gaza are being forced to give birth amid terrifying, unsafe and unsanitary conditions without adequate healthcare – including anaesthetics and painkillers. Those that do give birth safely must care for their newborns in overcrowded and unclean tents or shelters, without any of the essentials they need.  
Fatima, the mother of a newborn who is living in a school shelter, say she worries for her baby’s health. She said: “I spent the last three months of my pregnancy as a displaced person, sleeping on the floor. I was ill and exhausted, and that heavily affected my pregnancy. I tried getting some baby essentials. Not much was available for me, and I barely had any money to buy what I need... 
“I didn’t have proper food or drinks to help with my milk supply after I gave birth...I suffered many health complications after giving birth. I felt dizzy all the time and I could barely move. 
“Toilets [at the shelter] are dirty and very polluted. And hepatitis is spreading. I was really scared for my baby [being at risk] from disease. There’s a large number of people living here, and it’s bad for a newborn. It is unsanitary and unhealthy for a baby to live here. 
“We do not have food, nor water. No proper clothes to wear. It is difficult to even buy nappies for my baby. I’m sad that my baby has been born amid this suffering and need." 
Riham Jafari, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator at ActionAid Palestine, said
: “Mothers in Gaza today are in an appalling situation. Traumatised by almost six months of living in a war zone, where death could come at any time, now they are being forced to watch their children grow sick and weak with hunger and even die as food and water become impossible to access. These resourceful women are doing everything possible to care for their children, using clothing scraps as nappies, restricting their own food intake and finding grass and animal feed to eat - but conditions are growing worse by the day.  
“With warnings that famine is imminent, the outlook is bleak, but there is no excuse for apathy – this outcome can and must be avoided, but it requires urgent action right now. Israel must allow aid agencies full and unfettered access into Gaza so that food, water and medical supplies can reach those in need and stave off starvation. This must come alongside an immediate and permanent ceasefire: it is the only way vital aid can be distributed safely at the scale required, and the only way to stop the horrifying death toll from this crisis climbing any higher.” 


Riham Jafari is available as a spokesperson, please contact the press office to arrange. 
A video of Shirhan is available on request.