Israel-Hamas War Updates: U.S. Official Heads to Israel Amid Fears of Iranian Attack

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Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told lawmakers this week that a famine is underway in northern Gaza, which has been devastated by six months of Israeli military operations and is the part of the territory most cut off from aid.

Ms. Power’s statement was significant as it made her the first senior American official to publicly identified the hunger crisis in the Gaza Strip as a famine. But her agency, known as U.S.A.I.D., later sought to temper Ms. Power’s comments, clarifying that her assessment was based on data collected in March, not on new information.

“While there has not been a new assessment, conditions remain dire,” U.S.A.I.D. said in a statement on Thursday.

Aid agencies and global experts have warned for months that nearly all 2.2 million Palestinians in Gaza would soon face extreme hunger.

Ms. Power, whose comments came during a congressional testimony on Wednesday, was citing a March report from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification initiative, a group of U.N. agencies and relief agencies also known as the I.P.C., the U.S.A.I.D. statement said.

That report said that northern Gaza, the first part of the territory that Israeli forces invaded in October, could tip into famine between mid-March and May. The northern part of the enclave has been heavily damaged by the war and is far from the two open border crossings in the south through which nearly all aid is arriving.

During her congressional testimony on Wednesday, Ms. Power was asked by Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas, about reports that her agency had sent a cable to the National Security Council saying famine had begun in parts of Gaza. The cable was first reported by HuffPost.

“Do you think it is plausible or likely that parts of Gaza, and in particular northern Gaza, are already experiencing famine?” Mr. Castro asked.

Ms. Power said that appeared to be the case, and cited the I.P.C. report, whose methodology she described as sound. At the time, she did not specify which I.P.C. report she was referring to.

“That is their assessment, and we believe that assessment is credible,” Ms. Power said.

“So famine is already occurring there?” Mr. Castro replied.

“That is — yes,” Ms. Power said.

The I.P.C. usually classifies a food shortage as a famine when at least 20 percent of households face an extreme lack of food, when at least 30 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition and when at least two adults or four children for every 10,000 people die each day from starvation or disease linked to malnutrition.

Ms. Power said later in her testimony that the rate of severe malnutrition among Gazan children had become “markedly worse” since Oct. 7, when a Hamas-led terrorist attack prompted Israel to launch its military offensive in Gaza.

“In northern Gaza, the rate of malnutrition prior to Oct. 7 was almost zero, and it is now one in three kids,” she said. She added: “In terms of actual severe acute malnutrition for under-5s, that rate was 16 percent in January and became 30 percent in February. We’re awaiting the March numbers, but we expect it to continue.”

In interviews, people in northern Gaza have described severe food shortages. Even in Beit Lahia, once known as Gaza’s breadbasket, people’s diets sometimes amount to little more than boiled bitter weeds, said Yousef Sager, 24, a farmer.

“I never thought we would be talking about famine here,” he said.

In the early months of the war, he said he ate only a small plate of rice each day, with breakfast and dinner replaced by tea or coffee. When rice, tea and coffee ran out, he and many other Gazans turned to khobeza, a leafy green that grows in early spring.

But the khobeza is starting to run out, he said, so he now lives off a soup made from hot water and stinging nettles. Before the war, not even farm animals ate that, he said.

“I had to close my nose and just swallow it to survive,” he said.

Abu Bakr Bashir and Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

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